Basic Polenta Recipe | PBS Food

Polenta is similar to grits. In northern Italy, where it is most common, it can be prepared and served in many different ways. In its most basic preparation, polenta is a smooth and dense porridge. It can be served alongside many different foods, such as cheese, vegetables, fish, meat, and game, the proteins most often in a sauce or guazzetto. When chilled, polenta can be fried, grilled, or baked.

This versatile side dish is featured in the Return of the Artisans, and Homegrown Heroes episodes of Lidia Celebrates America.


Prep time: 10 Minutes

Cook time: 35 Minutes

Total time: 45 Minutes

Yield: Serves 6

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  • 5 cups water (or half water and half milk, for a richer taste)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1½ cups coarse yellow cornmeal
  • Cooked polenta is delicious served as is, but if you would like to add additional flavor, all or just one or two of the following additions, whipped into the hot polenta, are great options:
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup grated Grana Padano
  • ½ cup mascarpone
  • ½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola


  1. In a large saucepan, combine the water (or water and milk), olive oil, bay leaf, and salt, and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Very slowly, sift the cornmeal by handfuls into the pot, through the fingers of one hand, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk to remove any lumps.
  3. Once all of the cornmeal is added, adjust the heat so just a few lazy bubbles pop to the surface. Continue to cook and stir until the polenta is smooth and thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan as it is stirred, about 30 to 35 minutes.
  4. To serve, beat in the finishing items of your choice.
  5. Discard the bay leaf, pour the polenta into a serving bowl or onto a wooden board, and allow it to rest a few minutes.
  6. To serve from the bowl, dip a large spoon into hot water and scoop the polenta onto individual dishes, dipping the spoon into the water between scoops. To serve from the board, cut polenta into segments with a thin, taut string or knife, and transfer to plates with a spatula or cake server.
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