This Easy, Creamy, Quick-Cooking Polenta Recipe, made with just 5 simple ingredients, can be yours in minutes and tastes way better than the instant polenta you buy in the grocery store. This quick polenta recipe made with cornmeal is cooked on the stovetop. It's a super versatile dish that can be used in everything from breakfast to dinner.
For the longest time, I’ve bought instant polenta from the grocery store. Have you ever had it? It’s a pre-cooked polenta typically sold in a wrapped tube and can be sliced and heated, then topped with whatever your heart desires. Or, it comes in a box labeled "instant polenta". I always resorted to this option because I had never made homemade regular polenta before and thought that it was some drawn-out process (and, let's be real, I am sometimes a bit lazy). But in truth, homemade creamy polenta, could not be easier to make, and comes together much faster than the traditional method for cooking polenta. And this quick cooking version is so great - it's like your own instant polenta made right at home on the stovetop!
Why You’ll Love This Easy Recipe
- Polenta goes with everything! It’s a great base for stews, pasta sauces, chicken, steak, fish, veggies - you name it, polenta can be added as an easy, delicious side dish.
- It’s also great on its own! I love a basic polenta recipe. It’s a comforting, versatile dish that can be flavored in tons of different ways. (My favorite is cheesy polenta topped with a fried egg!)
- This recipe is super easy, cooks quickly and can be made FAST! Perfect for a weeknight, or when you’re looking to get something on the table quickly.
- Minimal ingredients are needed. You likely already have everything you need to make this easy recipe.
- Polenta is gluten-free. Cornmeal is gluten-free and most chicken broths, as is used in this recipe, are gluten-free as well. Be sure to check the type of broth you use to make sure it doesn't contain added gluten. Or, if you're not sure, you can always just use water to cook the polenta.
- It's healthy. This cornmeal dish is relatively healthy. It's made with "dent" corn, vs. sweet corn, meaning it contains more starch and less sugar. It's is rich in complex carbohydrates and is a good source of protein and fiber. It's a low-fat, low-calorie dish that has some beneficial vitamins and minerals too (Vitamin A, iron, magnesium, and zinc).
- It’s vegetarian. Not only is it vegetarian, but it’s also a great base for veggies.
What Is Polenta?
If you’re not familiar with this classic Italian dish, you’re in for a treat. Polenta is basically a cornmeal porridge that has been made for years, and back in the day was typically made by peasant or working-class families. It's made with cornmeal (and was often referred to as “cornmeal mush”) and a few other basic ingredients. At its core, polenta is really just cooked cornmeal.
Unlike the store-bought cornmeal mush tube, homemade polenta is creamy and smooth and can be made with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen pantry. It's a delicious buttery, corn-flavored dish that can be used as a base for many Italian dishes. And, while some recipes call for stirring for 45 minutes (and even up to 3 hours!), this easy quick recipe for polenta is made on the stovetop and gets it done in less than 15 minutes, start to finish. It's way better than instant polenta you buy from the store and is such a great base to serve with sauces, veggies and various meat or seafood dishes. This creamy, soft polenta is the perfect side dish!
Polenta Vs. Grits - What's The Difference?
Many people confuse polenta with corn grits, but they are slightly different. Grits have a much smoother, chewier consistency (surprisingly, given the name) and are made with white corn or hominy. Polenta, on the other hand, is made with yellow cornmeal and has a bit of a rougher, coarser texture.
However, for all intents and purposes, you can generally sub out polenta for grits in almost any recipe. They are very similar.
So, what do you need to make this creamy quick cooking polenta recipe? All you need are 5 simple ingredients, a pot, and about 20 minutes.
- Cornmeal. I used basic cornmeal for this delicious recipe. You'll want to look for a cornmeal that has a medium - coarsely ground consistency for this quick cooking recipe. Choosing one that has a consistent grind will make the polenta a bit more uniform while cornmeal that is stone ground will have a thicker texture.
Just be sure to not pick up a package of instant polenta. The reason these cook so quickly is that the cornmeal has been ground to an extra fine consistency, or the polenta has been precooked and then dried and processed. We're after a soft and creamy texture here and neither of the instant options will have the texture or flavor that using real cornmeal offers.
- Vegetable or chicken stock or water. (Water is the classic choice since it’s neutral and really lets the flavor of the corn shine. However, the stock adds a nice flavor to the dish and is great when you’re serving polenta all on its own.)
- Salt and pepper. To amp up the flavor.
- Butter. You can leave the butter out if you’re looking to make this dish vegan and instead top it with a drizzle of olive oil.
How To Make Quick Cook Polenta Using Cornmeal
This quick and creamy polenta recipe could not be easier. Here's an easy method for making perfect polenta, quickly, every time.
- First, add the cornmeal, stock, and spices to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Next, lower the heat and simmer until the mixture has thickened, which should take about 15 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture continuously through the simmering process. A note about stirring here – this recipe requires constant stirring the entire time it’s cooking – step away for a moment and you’ll come back to a clumpy, burnt mess. It’s a bit fussy like that, yes. But well worth it.
- Once the mixture has thickened up (it will look a bit like cornmeal porridge at this point), remove it from heat, add a bit of butter, and you’re good to go. You'll have a super delicious meal or side dish in just under 20 minutes!
- Add your toppings. If you'd like to dress up the polenta a bit more, it’s easy to do. Add a quick grind of black pepper or, some fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, or chives. Or, my personal favorite, make a cheesy polenta by adding your choice of cheese! (Parmesan cheese goes great with this polenta and has a nice sharp bite to it! In fact, I love serving a simple Parmesan polenta on it's own as the main dish for a light dinner)
Tips For Success
Polenta is one of those dishes that can really vary depending on the type of ingredients you use, how you cook it, and how long it cooks.
- Don’t use instant polenta. The convenience is ok, but the texture and taste is just not really there. And this recipe is so quick to make it’s not really that much longer than an instant version anyway (but you’ll get so much more flavor!)
- Vary your cooking time depending on how thick you’d like the dish to be. The cooking time here makes a nice and soft, creamy base. But, if you like polenta on the thicker side, allow it to cook for a bit longer until it reaches the consistency you’re after.
- Stir frequently so the mixture doesn’t boil over and doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot.
- Serve immediately. Polenta thickens up as it starts to cool so serve this dish immediately after you’ve taken it off the stovetop.
What To Serve With Polenta
So, now you know how to make this easy cornmeal polenta, but how do you actually eat it? Sooo many ways. It’s a super versatile dish and can be served as a base for all sorts of toppings, or even on its own, with a bit of seasoning. Here are some great ways to serve this simple creamy cornmeal dish:
- Piled high with a poached or fried egg and veggies
- Topped with a beef stew
- Served as a base for a tomato sauce (or really any type of Italian sauce)
- Pan-fried and crispy, topped with veggies. (Allow the polenta to cool, then slice it and fry polenta slices it in a pan over the stove.)
- Alongside some delicious shrimp
- Served under a mushroom ragout
- Under a big scooping of Jambalaya
- Make it cheesy, with Parmesan cheese, cheddar, or pretty much any cheese
- Add some herbs to make a delicious savory porridge
- As a base for pretty much anything you’d put atop a bowl of pasta!
- Add a drizzle of maple syrup for a sweet breakfast treat.
Other ways to use polenta
While the recipe here is for a creamy dish, there are also loads of other things you can make with polenta. (Especially if you have leftovers!) Here are a few ideas to try:
Make this Delicious, Easy, and FAST Polenta Recipe today! I promise – breakfast, lunch, or dinner – they will all be better because of it.
I’d love it if you’d tag me on Instagram if you make this creamy and quick polenta recipe! And don't forget to let me know what you think in the comments below!
Frequently Asked Questions
To store leftovers, allow the polenta to cool, then store it in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
Once polenta has cooled, or if you're using leftover polenta that's been stored in the fridge, you have a few options for reheating it. It will likely be a solid block. If you'd like to cut the polenta into blocks, you could always fry it up in a pan with a touch of butter or oil.
Or, if you want soft polenta, mix a bit of water with it and warm it over low heat on the stovetop, stirring constantly to ensure it doesn't stick and burn to the bottom of the pan. You can also reheat the polenta in the microwave by adding a bit of water, and stirring it periodically as it heats to get that creamy consistency.
The taste and texture of the polenta will vary greatly on the type of cornmeal or polenta you use. A medium or coarsely ground cornmeal will yield a more uniform result. And, if you buy cornmeal that is actually labeled as "polenta", it's likely to have been ground to soft, porridge-like consistency, producing a soft and creamy dish.
While cornmeal is naturally gluten-free, it's best to look for a variety or brand that is labeled as "gluten-free", as cross-contamination can happen.
Try These Other Easy Sides Dishes
- Easy 20-Minute Yogurt Flatbread
- Hot Honey Roasted Carrots
- Roasted Garlic And Cauliflower Mash
- Roasted Garlic Dipping Sauce For Bread
- Tomato Salad With Grains, Mint And Feta
Quick And Easy Polenta Recipe
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
- 1 cup cornmeal
- salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup butter
- Add the stock (or water), cornmeal, and salt to a medium sized saucepan and heat over medium-high heat.
- Bring the cornmeal mixture to a boil, stirring consistently. Lower the heat and continue stirring until the polenta has thickened, which should take around 15 minutes.
- Taste the polenta and, if needed, add additional salt and pepper.
- Remove from heat. Add the butter, and any additional seasonings you’d like. (Thyme, rosemary, chives, cheese, etc.)
- Don’t use instant polenta. Instant polenta is typically ground very finely and won’t produce a good texture. You want a medium or coarsely (stoneground) ground cornmeal for this recipe.
- Stir often. This will prevent the polenta from boiling over the top of your pot and from sticking to the bottom or burning.
- Make it vegan by omitting the butter and using olive oil instead. It will still be just as delicious!
- For a thicker polenta, cook it for slightly longer, until the porridge reaches your desired level of consistency.
- Serve this dish immediately. Polenta will start to thicken the more it cools so be sure to serve it as soon as you take it off the stovetop.