Cream it like mash, char a cheesy slab, or turn it into a citrusy cake – however you play it, polenta is a pantry staple that delivers big on flavour.
24 May 2019 - 10:18 AM  UPDATED 24 May 2019 - 3:22 PM

A common dish in Northern Italy, polenta or cornmeal porridge (not as sexy, is it?) is one of those special ingredients that lends itself to both sweet and savoury exploration.  It was originally cooked over open flames in a special copper pot known as a paiolo. Paying homage to its peasant roots, polenta is traditionally served spread across a large wooden board. Place it in the centre of the table and let everyone dive in!

If you’re looking for a creamy consistency to accompany, say, ragu, cook your polenta over the stovetop with water, stock or the supreme indulgence, milk. (O Tama Carey shares her tricks of the trade here.) Once cooked, pour your polenta into a greased and plastic wrapped pan before letting it chill in the fridge for a few hours. From there, the corny slab can be cut into pieces and chargrilled, fried or baked for a gluten-free alternative to chips.

But don’t stop there with your pack of polenta. You can throw it into any number of cakes, including this syrup-soaked lemon and limoncello number or a honey and pistachio slice. And heck, this Italian corn bread is built upon the stuff!

So to celebrate polenta’s appearance in The Chefs’ Line this week, we’ve rounded up 8 of the best recipes featuring this corny star.

Go rich or go home

Creamy polenta is a staple in the sinking city of Venice. For a classic combination, pair the mash with sautéed calf livers. The simple addition of butter, thyme, onions and white wine will turn the offal into a taste sensation.

Vegetarian va-va-voom

Give polenta the VIP treatment. First, cook with milk and water until you reach creamy perfection, then sprinkle with Parmesan shavings, thyme, salt and chilli flakes. Braised cavalo nero, pumpkin cubes and just-cooked cherry tomatoes make an excellent accompaniment.

Cornmeal cookies

Known as zaletti, these Italian biscuits are made with polenta, pasta flour, lemon zest, currants and the rocket-fuel of delicious digestives, grappa. With great gritty texture and sweet-sour notes, they bode well alongside an espresso.

Get your grill on

Go low and slow this weekend with beautiful braised veal or beef cheeks and cheesy, charred polenta slabs. The soft ‘n’ crispy combo mixes nicely with a bottle of Italian red.

Time to break bread

If you’re looking to bolster your bread making repertoire with a relatively easy recipe, this pane di Granturco, or cornbread, is one for you. 

You've got to chip it out

A lot of Italian street food originated from the need to make food stretch as far as possible, combining what few ingredients were available with leftovers. This is one such dish. Scagliozzi (pronounced skah-lee-oh-tsee) are fried shapes of leftover polenta, found predominantly in Bari and Naples in the south of Italy. You can bake them in the oven (which makes them healthier) and although not traditional, serve them with a garlic mayonnaise as a dipping sauce on the side. 

Feeling zesty?

Pairing polenta’s unique texture with the bang-on deliciousness of citrus, this lemon cake is a winner for winter months. The inclusion of limoncello in the sugar syrup is a boozy bonus.

Lemon polenta cake

Nut this one out

What a marvel. This pistachio-honey polenta cake stays moist even after a couple of days thanks to those healthy nut oils. It’s gluten-free, too. Serve with a dollop of mascarpone or Greek yoghurt and you’re dreamin’!

Pistachio-honey polenta cake

Crispy bits

“Morsels of fried polenta and chunks of roasted nashi mingle together and are balanced with crunchy slivers of fennel and watercress,” says chef O Tama Carey. Well, doesn’t that sound nice? This is a warm winter salad you’ll want to take to work. 

Roasted nashi, fennel, and crispy polenta salad

Made in Italy
The lowdown: Italian cuisine
Italian food is adored across Australia, but that hasn’t stopped several classics – pasta and pizza included – from being rather misconstrued. More than a carb fest, Italian cuisine prides itself on simplicity and seasonality: seafood sings, cheeses are revered, and tomato is king.
Pork sausage ragù with soft polenta

Polenta is a classic north Italian staple, typically served with rich hearty sauces such as ragù. I used to wake up on Sundays to my mum cooking polenta. It's not traditional to use pork sausage in ragù but it's delicious.

Baccala mantecato (salt cod paste)

This creamy, salty spread is enjoyed over special holidays in Italy, such as Easter or Christmas. It's labour and time intensive, but the deep, rustic flavours you get at the end are worth it. Serve baccala mantecato with a good crusty bread, crackers, crostini or vegetables. 

Wilted greens, potato and mozzarella tart

Perfect Italiano Mozzarella, with its lovely mild flavour and milky goodness, is the perfect foil for the greens in this tart filling. Use more if you like, scattering extra on the base of the tart with the Perfect Italiano parmesan, before baking.

Ricotta-stuffed chicken with tomato and basil

The trick to preventing chicken breast from drying out it is to add a layer of tomato on the outside and a lovely creamy Perfect Italiano ricotta filling on the inside, and bake it in a little stock to ensure the meat remains moist and full of flavour. 

Olive and rosemary focaccia

Predecessor to the modern pizza, focaccia is a simple Italian flatbread that was associated with Christmas Eve and Epiphany for many centuries. This savoury version, studded with fragrant rosemary and mixed olives, makes a fabulous accompaniment to a cheese board, picnic spread or soup.

Soft polenta

Polenta has long been an Italian staple, originating as a peasant food from northern Italy where it was originally cooked over open flames in a special vessel, a paiolo, that was made from copper, allowing the heat to be distributed evenly and with a curved bottom to stop it catching over its long cooking time. Traditionally, the polenta was served spread over a large board plonked on a table and eaten communally with spoons. I love this idea, as soft polenta is one of my ultimate comfort foods. When we make it at Berta, it often distracts me and I find myself standing next to the stove eating spoonfuls of it straight from the pot. We use a lovely organic polenta that is a little coarser than usual and leaves you with an excellent result – soft and creamy, yet with a slightly textured bite.