Creamy polenta recipe

People have asked me (actually one person in particular, i.e. my Italian-born father) why I don’t have more pasta recipes on my site or on my class menus.  I know everyone loves pasta and it’s super easy to make, but I think the internet and cookbooks have more than enough pasta recipes to keep everyone busy.  But more importantly, I think most people eat waaaaay too much pasta.  And not just too many times in a week as my family was guilty of when I was a kid, but also too much in one sitting.

I’m not a big fan of processed wheat flour which is nutritionally empty, loaded with hard-to-digest and inflammatory gluten, and causes a spike in blood sugar especially when eaten in large quantities.  When blood sugar surges, the pancreas releases insulin, a fat-storage hormone which is also pro-inflammatory.  If people could eat 1/2-1 cup of pasta in one sitting without any other concentrated carbohydrates at the same meal (that’s right, pasta plus garlic bread plus French fries is NOT a balanced dinner), and perhaps no other gluten-containing foods the rest of the day, I think we’d be in better shape, so to speak, than we are now.  But it is really, really easy to overeat pasta.  If you go to your neighborhood Italian restaurant, pasta is very often served as a main course, as opposed to in Italy where it is served in a much smaller portion as a first course.  American restaurant portions can be upwards of 8-12 ounces per serving which is about 4-6 times the recommended serving size.  Insanity.

Believe me, I love pasta as much as the next person, but I don’t love its effect on my body.  When I do eat pasta, I like to load it with vegetables and limit myself to a 1 cup serving.  I also try to rotate different pastas in our meals, including ones made from brown rice, quinoa and spelt.  But over the last few years, I have really enjoyed finding tasty and nutritious substitutes for pasta, such as spaghetti squash, millet-cauliflower mash, zucchini “noodles” and very often polenta.

Polenta is kind of like grits, but from ground yellow corn.  You can find fine, medium or coarse ground.  It does have a little bit of a corn flavor if you make it with just water and salt.  But add some grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese and a bit of olive oil or butter and you’ve got yourself a bowl of spoon-lickin’ goodness.  I really don’t know why more people don’t eat polenta.  It’s super easy to make, incredibly affordable, gluten-free and pretty nutritious (try to get organic or non-GMO.)  Most of all, it’s really creamy and luxurious-tasting.  I prefer it thick and pourable, rather than firm and sliceable, but that’s fine too.  I like to eat it with anything that I would serve on top of pasta such as meatballs, saucy vegetables, juicy greens, sautéed shrimp and so on.  I usually make the coarse-ground kind because I like a little texture, but if I’m strapped for time I’ll throw some fine ground cornmeal into the pot and I’ll have it ready in 5 minutes and it’s very silky smooth.  I think my girls like the “instant” polenta better because it’s creamier.  They’ll eat it with anything I mentioned above.  Mr. Picky has really only had a bite or two of polenta at a sitting and he thinks it’s “okay.”  He always mentions he would prefer pasta.  Thanks for the feedback, dude.  What I will do for the little guy is make sure I cook something else that night that I know he will eat like meatballs or lemon-thyme chicken.  Because if it were up to him, we’d be eating pasta every night.  Insanity!

Creamy Polenta
Serves: 6
  • 5-6 cups water or chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup polenta*
  • 1-3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, unrefined olive oil or organic Earth Balance (I prefer butter)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (optional)
  1. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the salt. Then add the polenta to the pot slowly, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook COVERED, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, about 20 minutes. The polenta can be eaten now, but the flavors develop more and you’ll lose some of the grittiness if you can allow it to simmer another 20-30 minutes. Not essential, though.
  2. Stir in the butter and cheese and serve immediately or keep warm in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Polenta should be pourable and creamy. If it’s too thick, stir in more liquid.
*You can also do a more “instant” version of this using instant polenta or fine ground cornmeal (like the kind you use for corn muffins.) That will take you 5 minutes.

Other options: For extra richness, you can stir in an additional ½ cup of whole milk or plain, unsweetened hemp milk at the end, or some mascarpone or cream cheese; Mozzarella or fontina cheese.

You can also add corn kernels, roasted garlic, or herbs, such as rosemary, basil or parsley.


Cornbread (with quinoa!) Recipe

Let me just start out with a disclaimer — I am not from the South.  I am a Yankee, which means I like my cornbread with half cornmeal and half flour and a drop of sweet and that’s that.  If you are a true Southerner and wouldn’t dream of adding honey or sugar or maple syrup to your cornbread, I hope we can still be friends.  I didn’t grow up eating it and I have no recipe that was passed down from my grandmother.  But my husband and my kids love cornbread, especially at certain times of the year and I love preparing them good food that makes them happy.

After I posted my Thanksgiving menu a few months ago, I had many inquiries about my cornbread recipe, so I figured I would share it just before the Super Bowl when you might be whipping up a big pot of chili.  Even if you’re not eating something that goes well with cornbread, you will be delighted with this quick bread just by itself.  My husband loves to split a wedge of the bread, toast it and slather it with a little more butter or honey or strawberry preserves for a nice treat.  I typically like a barely sweet cornbread, which this is if you use 4 Tablespoons of honey.  You can adjust the sweetness level according to your preference, but the best part about this bread is how moist and corny it is (even after several days.)     I’m not sure anyone in my family knows that I add cooked quinoa to the batter.  And it’s not because I’m the kind of person that sneaks healthful food into recipes and doesn’t say anything.  I’m not clever enough for that.  But I do try to use food efficiently and one day I had a bit of quinoa left in the fridge and since quinoa and corn go really well together, I decided to add it to the corn bread batter.  You don’t notice it at all, except that I think the quinoa adds a nice moistness to the bread and a great boost of protein.

I’ve made this cornbread so many times with different combinations of ingredients based on whom I am feeding or what is available to me in the pantry and it has never disappointed.  Although I’ve learned something about how certain foods affect the end result.  Dairy, such as milk and butter, result in a slightly more golden color to the finished bread.  Coconut oil leaves a slightly sweet, subtly tropical aftertaste.  The whole spelt flour is slightly coarser than whole wheat pastry, and made the bread feel a little more “whole grain.”  If you use olive oil, you can taste it if the bread is still warm, but not after it has cooled a bit, but that will also depend on the kind of olive oil you use.  Take this as a foundation recipe and have fun with it.  Drop the honey and add diced cooked bacon, finely chopped jalapenos, or shredded cheese.  Or prepare as is with some vanilla extract and blueberries or raspberries for a sweet treat.

Are you entertaining for the Super Bowl?  I would love to hear what you’re making.  I am making guacamole and baked chips, but I’ll also serve it with jicama.  I’ll make a giant pot of Vegetable Chili tomorrow and reheat on Sunday.  I am also doing a Baked Potato Bar with lots of toppings (what in the world is easier to make than a baked potato?)  I actually love a baked potato topped with chili!  A big chopped salad and cornbread for sure!  Daughter #1 told me she’s in charge of desserts.  I’m nervous.  Other fun foods for the big game can be Roasted Vegetable and Black Bean Enchiladas (especially the casserole version), a Taco or Fajita bar, Cilantro-Lime Slaw or a make-your-own sandwich bar with grilled chicken.  I know my family in NY will be making some form of baked pasta, meatballs, sausage and peppers.  Know your audience, I guess!

If you have leftover guacamole and/or salsa after the game, save it for a great soup recipe on Monday.   Have fun!

5.0 from 2 reviews
Cornbread (with quinoa!)
Serves: makes 1 8x8-inch pan or 12 muffins
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or whole spelt flour or your favorite GF baking mix
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground*
  • 2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk**
  • ½ cup melted unsalted butter (1 stick) or coconut oil or olive oil
  • 2 large eggs***
  • 4-6 Tablespoons honey or Grade A maple syrup (I use 4 Tbs.)
  • 1 cup COOKED quinoa (optional)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners or grease an 8 x 8-inch baking dish (I usually dip a pastry brush in the melted butter I’m using in the recipe and grease the pan that way.)
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl or a blender, combine buttermilk, melted butter, eggs and honey until well blended. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the corn kernels. Using an ice cream scooper, divide the batter into the muffin pan or pour it into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake the muffins for 15-18 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Or bake the cornbread in the 8 x 8 pan for 30-35 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before removing muffins from the pan.
*If you like a more tender, less grainy cornbread, increase flour by ½ cup and decrease cornmeal by ½ cup.

**Or ½ cup whole unsweetened yogurt + ½ cup milk of choice. Or 1 cup dairy-free milk + 1 Tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar

***Or 2 Tablespoons ground flax meal mixed with 6 Tablespoons warm water. Allow to sit 10-15 minutes. And then allow batter to sit 5-10 minutes before baking.

****To cook quinoa: Rinse quinoa and then cook 1 cup quinoa in 1 ¾ cups boiling water covered for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes, covered. Makes about 3 cups cooked quinoa.