You may have seen polenta on menus, presented like a more interesting version of mashed potatoes. Or maybe you’ve heard of it as a classic Italian dish but how much do you know about polenta? Isn’t it just cornmeal? How is it different than grits?

If polenta is new to you, I definitely recommend giving it a try. This classic dish is creamy, comforting and satisfying. Despite what you may have heard, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to prepare it. Polenta is also versatile with several ways to enjoy it. So this fall, when the weather is chilly and you’re craving something warm and hearty, have some creamy, comforting polenta. Here are the tips you need to make this amazing dish.

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1. What is Polenta?

Polenta Bake With Caramelized Onions and Portobello Bacon [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Technically, polenta refers to the northern Italian dish rather than the ingredient used to make it. However, most people use the terms interchangeably. Traditionally, polenta is made with yellow cornmeal that is coarsely ground – though, cornmeal that is white and/or medium-ground will work as well. It is possible to make polenta from other ingredients than cornmeal. I like making it with chickpea flour and it’s a delicious corn-free option.

2. How Do I Cook It?

Lemon Seitan With Creamy Polenta [Vegan]

The cornmeal is cooked in water or broth until it thickens and becomes tender and creamy. To make my “Cheesy Soft Polenta”: Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add ½ teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. Add 2 cups of polenta gradually while whisking. Lower the heat and cook until the polenta is thickened and smooth. Continue to mix for 15 minutes until the polenta is at a consistency to your liking. Then turn off the heat and add vegan butter and/or vegan cheese. Mix until melted and combined. Some people like to add not only cheese but veggies as in this Lemon Seitan and Creamy Polenta dish.

3. Ways to Eat Soft Polenta

Fiesta Polenta [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

There are many ways to enjoy soft polenta. The softness of polenta depends on how much liquid you use to cook it – the more liquid you use, the softer the polenta and the longer it will stay soft as it cools.

I like to serve soft polenta as a base for my Braised Seitan Ribs in Spicy Chili Sauce. All the sauce gets absorbed into the polenta and it’s absolutely incredible. Polenta can also be eaten for breakfast as a hot cereal or added to a stew to make it thick and hearty like this Eggplant Garbanzo Stew with Polenta.

4. Changing the Texture

Cheezy Polenta Bruschetta [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

If you want to make firm polenta, use less liquid and cook it longer. To make crispy polenta, pour the soft polenta into a flat pan, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a few hours until firm. Once it is chilled, it can be cut into shapes and fried, sauteed, baked or grilled. Slices of polenta can even be used in place of lasagna noodles. Small rounds of polenta can act as the base instead of toast for yummy toppings to make appetizers like this Cheezy Polenta Bruschetta. I love to make thin slices of polenta and layer them with sauteed mushrooms and greens or bake the polenta and then cut them into fries similar to my Chickpea Fries. Try these Zucchini Polenta Fries and Zucchini Polenta Scramble for a doubly delicious meal.

5. Other Types of Polenta

Veganpolentabenedict

You can also buy “quick-cooking” polenta which is par-cooked so instead of forty minutes, you can have a bowl of polenta in just five. Prepared polenta is sold in big tubes and can be cut into pieces for cooking or melted on the stovetop into a creamy consistency. The tube variety is used in this Polenta Benedict, a vegan version of eggs benedict. Pieces of pre-formed polenta become mixed with other ingredients to make a Polenta Pizza Crust. Polenta gets stir-fried in this Asian Broccolette Polenta dish while slices of polenta become the base for spicy jackfruit in this Super Simple Fiesta Jackfruit and Polenta.

6. More Recipes

Pav Bhaji With Gluten Free Polenta Brioche Buns [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Now that you know all about polenta, it’s time to try it. If you would like a crispier, less doughy pizza crust, make this Polenta Pizza. It’s especially good topped with roasted veggies. Pav Bhaji, a famous street food in Mumbai, is veganized in this dish and served with Gluten Free Polenta Brioche Buns. When you need a hearty, satisfying dinner quickly, this Fiesta Polenta is just the dish. It whips up super-fast and the chiles, cilantro, tomatoes, onions and spices makes it spicy and delicious. For a more upscale version of a casserole, this Polenta Bake with Caramelized Onions and Portobello Bacon will impress everyone.

Polenta is a classic dish that also happens to be gluten-free. To learn more about dishes made with cornmeal, check out Cornmeal is the New Black: How to Use This Gluten-Free Flour.

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Lead image source: Pav Bhaji With Gluten Free Polenta Buns