Wednesday, 7 January 2009


Polenta is a dish made from boiled cornmeal. Although the word is borrowed into English from Italian, the dish (under various names) is popular in Italian, Slovenian, Savoyard, Swiss, Austrian, Portuguese, Bosnian, Croatian (where it is called Palenta or, in Dalmatia, pura), Cuban, American, Hungarian (where it is called puliszka), Serbian (kačamak in Serbian), Romanian (where it is called mămăligă), Bulgarian, Georgian, Corsican, Argentine, Uruguayan, Brazilian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Haitian, Mexican and Turkish (typically from the Black Sea region, known as mamalika) cuisines, and it is a traditional staple food throughout much of Northern Italy.

Polenta is made with ground yellow or white cornmeal, (ground maize). It can be ground coarsely or finely depending on the region and the texture desired. As it is known today, polenta derives from earlier forms of grain mush (known as puls or pulmentum in Latin or more commonly as gruel or porridge) commonly eaten in Roman times and after. Early forms of polenta were made with such starches as the grain farro and chestnut flour, both of which are still used in small quantity today. When boiled, polenta has a smooth creamy texture due to the gelatinization of starch in the grain, though it may not be completely homogenous if a coarse grind or a particularly hard grain such as flint corn is used.


Polenta, by Pietro Longhi
Polenta was originally a
peasant food. However, since the late 20th century, polenta has become a premium product. Polenta dishes are on the menu in many high-end restaurants, and prepared polenta can be found in supermarkets at high prices. Many current polenta recipes have given new life to an essentially bland and common food, invigorating it with various cheeses or tomato sauces.
Polenta is often cooked in a huge copper pot known in
Italian as paiolo. In northern Italy there are many different ways to cook polenta. The most famous Lombard polenta dishes are polenta taragna, polenta uncia, polenta concia, polenta e gorgonzola, and missultin e polenta; all are cooked with various cheeses and butter, except the last one, which is cooked with fish from Lake Como. It can also be cooked with porcini mushrooms, rapini, or other vegetables or meats, such as small song-birds in the case of the famous Venetian and Lombard dish polenta e osei.
Western polenta is denser, while the eastern one is softer. The variety of cereal used is usually yellow maize, but
buckwheat, white maize or mixtures thereof are also used.
Polenta is traditionally a slowly cooked dish. It
sometimes takes an hour or longer, and constant stirring is necessary. The time and labor intensity of traditional preparation methods has led to a profusion of shortcuts. These include alternative cooking techniques that are meant to speed up the process. There are also new products such as
instant polenta, popular in Italy, that allow for fast, easy preparation at home.
In his book Heat, Bill Buford talks about his experiences as a line cook in Mario Batali's Italian restaurant Babbo. Buford details the differences in taste between instant polenta and slowly cooked polenta, and describes a method of preparation that takes up to three hours, but does not require constant stirring: "polenta, for most of its cooking, is left unattended.... If you don't have to stir it all the time, you can cook it for hours—what does it matter, as long as you're nearby?"[1] Cook's Illustrated magazine has described a method using a microwave oven that reduces cooking time to 12 minutes and requires only a single stirring to prepare 3 1/2 cups of cooked polenta.[2] Kyle Phillips[3]suggests making it in a polenta maker or in a slow cooker.
Cooked polenta can also be shaped into balls, patties, or sticks and fried in oil until it is golden brown and crispy; this variety of polenta is called crostini di polenta or polenta fritta. Similarly, once formed into a shape it can also be grilled using, for example, a
brustolina grill.

Regional variations
Bosnia, it is called pura.
Croatia, polenta is common on the Adriatic coast, where it is known as palenta or pura; in northwestern part of Croatia and around Zagreb, it is known as žganci. In the Adriatic Croatian coast, polenta goes together with fish or frog stew (brujet, brudet).
Corsican variety is called pulenta, and it is made with sweet chestnut flour rather than cornmeal.
Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia the dish is called kachamak (качамак).
Serbian variety is called palenta or kačamak (качамак).
Romanian variety is called mămăligă; this word is also borrowed into the Russian (Мамалыга). The most notable feature of this Romanian variety is the feta cheese cooked in the Polenta.[citation needed]
In southern
Austria Polenta is also eaten for breakfast (sweet Polenta); the Polenta pieces are either dipped in café au lait or served in a bowl with the café au lait poured on top of it (this is a favourite of children).
In the
American East, it is commonly called Mush, espescially among those of non-Italian descent.

Similarity with other foods
North and South American foods
Polenta is very similar to corn
grits, a common dish in the cuisine of the Southern United States, with the difference that grits are usually made from coarsely ground kernels. When properly cooked, grits and polenta have similarly smooth textures, "grit" referring to the texture of the dried corn before cooking. Another variation uses ground hominy, lye-treated corn kernels.
Polenta is similar to boiled maize dishes of
Mexico, where both maize and hominy originate.
Brazilian variety is also known as angu. Originally made by native Indians, it is a kind of polenta without salt nor any kind of oil. However, nowadays "Italian" polenta is much more common at Brazilian tables, especially in the southern and southeastern regions (which have high numbers of Italian immigrants), although some people still call it "angu". The city of São Bernardo do Campo is famous for its restaurants specialized in frango com polenta (fried chicken with fried polenta).

African and Afro-Caribbean foods
In South Africa, cornmeal mush is a staple food called mealie pap; elsewhere in Southern Africa it is called sadza, in Zimbabwe, phaletshe, in Botswana, and nshima, in Zambia, and "Oshifima" or Pap in Namibia. In East Africa a similar dish is called ugali, named from the Swahili language. Fufu, a starch-based food from West and Central Africa, may also be made from maize meal. In the Caribbean, similar dishes are cou-cou (Barbados), funchi (Curaçao) and funjie (Virgin Islands). It is known as funche in Puerto Rican cuisine and mayi moulin in Haitian cuisine.

Giorgio V. Brandolini, Storia e gastronomia della polenta nella Bergamasca, Orizzonte Terra, Bergamo, 2007. 32 pages.
Interesting facts
The overreliance on polenta as a staple food caused outbreaks of
pellagra throughout much of Europe until the 20th century and in the American South during the early 1900s. Maize lacks readily accessible niacin unless cooked with alkali.
Thank you to Wikipedia who provided the information.

Polenta with Chilli con Carne;


Elfe said...

Mmm, I love polenta!

Nicole said...

I love polenta, my most memorable polenta dish was in a restarant Ireland, grilled polenta with mushrooms and tomato sauce and parmesan shavings. I think the quality ingredients were the key. I often make arepas for a quick meal or breakfast, like yesterday when I was too tired to cook.
I had a friend who grew up poor in Jamaica, and when I offered him freshly made arepas I was surprised at his refusal. Apparently cornmeal was a staple of his childhood, and he now hated it or anything made of it. He also said that where he grew up most dogs are fed exclusively cornmeal in Jamaica!

Titania said...

Elfe; I love it too; as a child I ate it sweetened for breakfast.

Nicole; I had the same experience with a person from Switzerland. He said he hates polenta because he had to eat it everyday when he was a child. It was a staple like bread in his home.

Sandradb said...

Palenta, pulenta or žganci - this is definitely one of my favorite dishes! I'm so happy you wrote a post about it. Bye and greetings from frozen Croatia.

Titania said...

I was thinking of you when I was reading that Polenta is also very popular in Croatia.

Barbara said...

Von vielen als "Hühnerfutter" verschrien, ist Polenta jedoch häufig auf unserem Menuplan zu finden. Richtig gemacht mit den passenden Zutaten, ist es ein herrliches Gericht und bringt uns immer ein bisschen Grotto-Stimmung ins Haus!
Es liebs Grüessli, Barbara

Helga said...

Ich mag Polenta sehr gerne. Leider kommt sie nur zu selten auf den Tisch.

Grace said...

First, I found your blog while looking at a Watery Wednesday photo. I, too have a blog with a post on Polenta, A Polenta Fest we attended recently, with photos. One of my grandfathers always had
polenta growing up in Italy, and my mother made it, we liked it served with her homemade tomato sauce. I was surprised that so many countries have a recipe for a version of Polenta. Thank-you for your in depth summary to share with others. Have a great day.

Titania said...

Barbara; when du von Huehnerfutter redest, muss ich sagen mein Vater hat das gleiche gesagt, dazu hat
er noch gegrunzt wie ein Saeuli! Er hat nie Polenta gegessen. Mein Mann liebt sie sehr und ich koche sicher Polenta einmal im Monat. Wir essen nicht mehr so viel Carbs. Mehr Salate und Gemuese und 2-3 Mal Fleisch in der Woche.

Danke Helga, Ich glaube man isst auch nicht mehr so viele Carbohydrates wie frueher. Jetzt im winter sind diese natuerlich eher gefragt.

Grace, thank you for stopping by and your comment. I will visit your blog.

easygardener said...

I must try cooking it again.I usually sprinkle it on a baking tray when I make bread rolls but I must make an effort and try a recipe.

Titania said...

Denise this is a good idea with the bread, I used Semolina but now I use flour.

Anonymous said...


cocopuff said...

has anyone read the above comment, translated using google to english?