Polenta the slow, traditional way.

Particularly useful for Fodmap, Gluten Free and Low Fat diets.

Cornmeal, the ingredient of polenta, is a staple in many cultures including northern Italy and several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The polenta as a ‘porridge’ may be referred to as “grits”, the coarsely ground corn/maize. It is cooked to a soft consistency and served either layered with cheese, meat, beans or vegetables or as a sweet dish with a drizzle of syrup or honey.

Most people in the west who have cooked cornmeal refer to it as polenta and know it as a ‘quick-cook’ product. This cornmeal, although dry, has been partially cooked. It takes less than 10 minutes to prepare, making it a good addition to a quick meal.

Cornmeal is available in various textures and is much cheaper than part-cooked polenta. I recommend you start with a medium-coarse cornmeal.

Here, I outline the method to cook smooth, soft polenta using unprocessed cornmeal. It is a slower method, taking 30-40 minutes; and, during this time, it requires stirring or whisking regularly to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan or ending up lumpy. However, this does not require 100% of your time, provided you remain close by the stove preparing other items while keeping on eye on the cornmeal.

When adding to the boiling liquid, pour in the cornmeal slowly, stirring or whisking the liquid continuously to prevent it clumping. Water is the usual liquid used; for a richer polenta, use half water and half milk or stock.

A softer polenta is made using a cornmeal/liquid ratio of one part cornmeal to five parts liquid. The final texture should be similar to mashed potato.

For a firmer polenta to serve cooled and sliced into squares or fingers, the proportions are one part cornmeal to three or four parts liquid. (Adjust this ratio to your preference.) When adding cheese – a tasty augmentation – I use a ratio one part cornmeal to three parts liquid plus cheese.

Diets for which Polenta – soft is suitable:

Diabetic, Dairy Free (but not if milk is used in the mix), Fodmap, Gluten Free, Low Calorie, Low Fat, Nut Free, Vegetarian and Vegan (but, again, not with milk in the mix).


Preparation: 5 mins | Cooking: 30+ mins | Serves: 4

1250 ml (5 cups) water
1/2 tsp salt
100 gm (1 cup) cornmeal, medium


BOIL the water in a heavy-based pan.
ADD the salt and pour in the cornmeal, like a slow stream, whisking the mix continuously.
REDUCE the heat.
STIR the cornmeal for 2-3 minutes as it thickens.
COOK for approximately 30 minutes, until the polenta begins to come away from the side of the pan. (Stir the mix every 4-5 minutes during the cooking to prevent it sticking and forming lumps.)

Alternative method.
COOK the cornmeal for 10 minutes as outlined above.
COVER the cornmeal with greaseproof paper.
BAKE at 180 C/350 F/ Gas 4 for 45 minutes. (The top may have a chewy crust but the interior will remain soft and creamy.)


– Immediately (it thickens and is not a good product if left warm).
– Stir in cheese or herbs as you take the polenta off the heat.
– Top with caramelised onions or mushrooms.

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