Polenta, which originated from Northern Italy as a peasant food is made from ground yellow corn, also known as yellow cornmeal. In the US, southern cooking popularized a similar dish called grits made from ground white corn. Polenta and grits are made from corn so both are naturally gluten-free.
White cornmeal, which is derived from white corn has slightly less vitamin A than yellow cornmeal, which is derived from yellow corn. Yellow cornmeal is sweeter and has a more powerful flavor.
Besides the variety of color, cornmeal is also available in different textures. Fine cornmeal makes for a soft and thin polenta while the coarse variety results in a heartier texture. It’s a matter of opinion, but I find coarse cornmeal to be tastier. After polenta is cooked and cooled, it can be cut into shapes and grilled, baked or fried. Many supermarkets sell polenta in a tube, which is already cooked and ready to be sliced and baked further. Use polenta instead of pasta, bread, rice or potatoes. It can also be used as the base of a vegetarian meal and topped with cooked beans, diced tomatoes and steamed greens.
Homemade Polenta Recipe
Ingredients (use organic when available):
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 cups organic low-sodium vegetable broth
- 2 cups organic low fat milk
- 3/4 teaspoon sea or rock salt
- 1 cup polenta (fine or coarse yellow cornmeal)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh chives or basil, finely chopped
In a 2 quart saucepan, over medium to low heat, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic for 3 minutes. Add the broth, milk and salt, and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat and slowly pour the cornmeal into the hot liquid, whisking to prevent lumps for 2 to 3 minutes.
Lower the heat to cook the mixture at a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the cornmeal is creamy, about 30 to 45 minutes, depending upon coarseness of the cornmeal. The more you stir, the creamier it will be. If it becomes too thick, add 1/2 cup of water. Stir well and continue cooking. Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the cheese and herbs. For firm polenta, lightly oil a shallow dish, (about 8 1/2 by 11 inches). Carefully pour polenta into dish. Using a spatula, spread polenta to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. Cool to room temperature to allow polenta to solidify. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Optional: Sprinkle top with chopped tomatoes and serve.
Nutrition Facts per serving: 200 calories, 7 grams fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 131 mg potassium, 25 grams carbs, 1 gram dietary fiber, 8 grams protein, high in calcium.
For more healthy recipes check out my book: Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secret Of The Super-Healthy.