Firm polenta is perfect for hors d’oeuvres, fancy looking meals, and parties. But I prefer to eat soft polenta. Soft polenta is a simple side dish made with cornmeal. It also makes a fantastic substitute for rice or pasta when served with saucy or flavourful or meaty (or vegetarian) dishes such as stews, ragu, etc. A friend introduced it to me a few years ago when I was at her place for dinner. She served it with melted cheese and sour cream and I could not get enough of it. Prior to that, I didn’t think that polenta was eaten in any other texture than firm. I’ve been making soft polenta regularly ever since. (See my shrimp on polenta recipe here.)
I have posted two different recipes for soft polenta. The first is very basic and light, and I’ve included 2 different ways to serve it. The second is a rich, creamy, and heavier polenta recipe.
Basic Soft Polenta Recipe
makes 1 large serving or 2 small side servings
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
1/4 cup cornmeal
salt to taste
1/8 to 1/4 cup (depending on how strong your cheese is) freshly grated parmesan cheese (I use a Microplane coarse grater)
1 tbsp butter
For Serving Variation #2:
1 to 2 dollops of sour cream
several slices of cheese – I prefer a stretchy and stringy melting cheese such as mozzarella or provolone OR a soft cheese such as brie, camembert, gruyere, havarti, or gouda (I’ve even used soft ripened goat cheese); and you could use more than one type of cheese
In a small heavy bottomed pot, bring the water and chicken broth to a boil over high heat. Add the cornmeal in a thin stream while whisking continuously to combine well. Then reduce the heat to medium low and whisk very frequently for 8 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and when the polenta is very hot, whisk in the butter until smooth. Then whisk in the cheese until it melts. Plate and serve immediately as per one of the variations below. Soft polenta needs to be eaten while still hot.
Serving Variation #1: Use the polenta as a rice or pasta substitute. Plate immediately with a flavourful or saucy meat or vegetable dish (ie. ragu, stew) and eat while still hot.
Serving Variation #2: To serve polenta as a side dish, you could serve it plain. OR you could place slices of cheese on the bottom of each person’s bowl or plate and place a scoop of the polenta directly overtop of the cheese. Top with a dollop of sour cream. Serve immediately and eat while still hot. The cheese melts from the heat of the polenta and contrasts beautifully with the cool, creamy sour cream.
Creamy Polenta Recipe
makes 3 to 4 side servings
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup water
5 tablespoons cornmeal
5 tablespoons semolina (or substitute with cornmeal)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I use a Microplane coarse grater)
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the cream, chicken broth, and water to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cornmeal and polenta in a thin stream while whisking continuously to combine well. Then reduce the heat to low and whisk very frequently for 8 minutes. Whisk in the cheese until melted. Dish out and serve immediately. Eat while still hot. This makes a beautifully rich side.