Do you know what polenta really is? Cornmeal mush. I sympathize with the cooks who use its Italian name. “Sauteed mushrooms on cornmeal mush” and “pork roast with a side of mush” lack a certain elegance. Unfortunately, cornmeal mush’s new name makes it seem obscure and intimidating, when in reality it is a classic comfort food, and easy as pie. (Actually, it’s much easier than pie.) Too few people cook polenta, and the only reason I can imagine is that it sounds scary. Polenta is quicker and simpler to make (and harder to mess up) than rice, pasta, bulgar, or mashed potatoes. It can be ready 10 minutes after you step into your kitchen, and it is uses inexpensive ingredients most cooks already have. It has its own flavor, but plays well with others. Plus, you can serve it to your friends who are avoiding gluten. Are you convinced yet that you need a
corn meal mush polenta recipe? Here’s mine, a variation on the cornmeal box’s recipe for mush for six people:
1 1/2 c corn meal
1 qt chicken stock (Water or another stock would work, too. Using broth bumps the flavor up so well that I think it eliminates any need for butter.)
Seasonings: salt, freshly ground pepper, cayenne (optional)- I’m not cool enough to measure my seasonings. I think I used at least 3/4 t of salt, though, and if you don’t use broth, you’ll need extra. You could also stir in some fresh herbs (rosemary sounds delectable). I’m a big fan of cranberries with corn, so someday I’m going to be bold and stir some craisins in. On a different day, I plan to use sriracha to punch the flavor up. For breakfast, you can use water instead of broth and serve it with maple syrup, or with molasses as a sort-of Anadama porridge. Cornmeal mush is very versatile!
Dairy: (optional) butter and/or melty cheese like Monterey Jack.
Pour a little more than half of the broth (again, I rarely measure) into a sauce pan with the seasonings and bring to a boil. Whisk the other half of the broth into the cornmeal. Slowly whisk this into the boiling broth. Cook and stir until thickened (around 5 minutes). Add dairy if desired. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
Ta-da! You have just made polenta. It’s a glorious side dish on its own, or a great bed for a stew. You can add a few steps and let the polenta set in a shallow pan in the fridge, slice it up, and fry the slices. But I like mush served as its honest, simple, homey self, glopped from pan to plate while it’s still warm. If you want to, though, call it by its food-snob name. Only you and I need to know that you’re serving mush.