Polenta, of course, is Italian cornmeal mush. But, oh, what mush! Cornmeal simmered to a savory paste, enriched with butter and cream, then smokily browned on the grill. You could serve grilled polenta by itself as a side dish or you could top it with any other of your favorite pasta sauces. For a whimsical touch use a cookie cutter to cut out stars, triangles, circles, or other fanciful shapes.

Serves 4.

  • 2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil for enriching the polenta (optional), plus 2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil for basting

1. In a large, heavy saucepan combine the cornmeal, water, salt, and pepper and whisk until smooth. Bring the polenta to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, whisking steadily.

2. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and stir in the cream and 2 tablespoons butter or oil. Gently simmer the polenta until the mixture thickens enough to pull away from the sides of the pan, 30 to 40 minutes. It should be the consistency of soft ice cream. You don't need to whisk the polenta continuously, but you should give it a stir every 5 minutes. As it thickens, you'll need to switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste: the polenta should be highly seasoned.

3. Pour the polenta it onto a non-stick jelly roll pan or cake pan. Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it until firm, at least 4 hours. The recipe can be prepared up to 48 hours ahead.

4. Preheat the grill to high. Oil the grate. Cut the cold polenta with a knife or cookie cutter into squares, rectangles, or other fanciful shapes and turn it out of the pan. Brush the polenta pieces with melted butter or oil. Grill the polenta until sizzling hot and lightly browned on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Serve at once.

© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort