Polenta for Christmas

Posted by on Dec 23, 2013 in Side Dishes | 2 comments


Occasionally, you need something to eat that has a powerful comfort denominator.  Long simmering polenta like American grits has this brilliant buttery creamy potent persuasion.

I had a crazy notion that you only ate polenta in restaurants because the same intimidation parked next to risotto was widespread for home cooks.



What if—what if you were also crazy enough to serve polenta soft style at Christmas Dinner for a crowd  instead of the usual (I meant, loved and adored) potatoes?


--photo courtesy of sf.eater

This recipe and technique created by the late, Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café allows you to prepare polenta two ways—soft  and velvety for now-- and a tender grilled triangle for another day.

Because Judy’s rendition is restaurant- ready, I proceeded to plan our Christmas dinner with soft polenta on the plate with an Italian theme.   The exception is homage to MP’s childhood favorite vegetable dish (another post).









The ingredients and method are quite simple.  A heavy bottomed pan prevents scorching and a balloon whisk is helpful too.

Use a premium coarsely ground polenta, like Bob’s Red Mill. Water, salt, a knob of butter and Parmesan cheese completes the lineup.

Bring the water  and 1 teaspoon Kosher salt to a simmer in a 2-quart saucepan.








Add the polenta in a steady stream all at once.  Use a whisk and stir constantly until the mixture returns to a simmer.

















Reduce the heat until the polenta only bubbles and sputters occasionally, and cook uncovered for an hour, stirring as needed, until thick and fluid.  If the polenta becomes stiff, add a trickle of water.















I moved the polenta into a stainless steel bowl.  Taste.  I added 1 more teaspoon of salt and  2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.








I created a makeshift double boiler.  Cover the polenta with plastic wrap and let it set there over barely simmering water or until serving time. Check the water level now and then.








Grab a spoon and the cheese... let it snow!








The remainder can be  spooned into a dish covered and chilled for another meal.








Reheat or








brown a slice for breakfast,








or grill a wedge with a side of marinara for lunch.


Polenta for a crowd...wish me luck.

Make ahead Polenta


  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup coarsely ground polenta
  • About 2 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
  • unsalted butter, to taste
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving (optional)


  1. Bring the water to a simmer in a 2-quart saucepan. Whisk or stir in the polenta, then stir until the water returns to a simmer. [I did this step, and the steps that follow, with a whisk.] Reduce the heat until the polenta only bubbles and sputters occasionally, and cook, uncovered, for about 1 hour, stirring as needed, until thick but still fluid. If the polenta becomes stiff, add a trickle of water. Taste. Add salt and a generous dose of butter. [I used 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and about 2 tablespoons of butter.]
  2. Transfer the polenta to a double boiler set over simmering water. Wrap the lid tightly in plastic wrap (*see note) and cover the polenta. Allow the polenta to rest that way for at least 30 minutes – or up to a few hours, depending on your schedule. If you do not have a double boiler, you can make a close approximation by setting the saucepan containing the polenta on a small, ovenproof ramekin centered inside a wider, deeper pot, and surrounding it with barely simmering water. Cover the pan as directed above.
  3. Judy Rodgers—Zuni Café Cookbook





  1. 12-23-2013

    I have no doubt it will be fabulous Peggy. Cesar loves Polenta but I never make it because I thought it was too tricky!! I think you just took my excuse away!

  2. 12-24-2013

    Like it better then mine!! Must try it… 😉


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