Polenta is a golden-yellow Italian cornmeal made from dried, ground maize (corn), and also the name given to the savoury cornmeal porridge that’s made by mixing cornmeal with water and simmering and stirring until it thickens - a staple dish of northern Italy. Polenta can be ground coarse or fine and is widely used in the southern states of America to make a variety of dishes, including cornbread, because maize is a major crop in the US.
Fine polenta (the instant of quick-cook variety) is the type most widely available in the UK. Ready-to-eat polenta is also available, sold in rubbery looking blocks.
Polenta can be served hot – known as wet polenta – or left to cool and set after cooking, then cut into slices and fried or grilled. Wet polenta can be bland so tends to be mixed with richly flavoured ingredients such as butter, cheese or fried mushrooms, or served as a side dish to accompany meat dishes, stews or casseroles. Fried or grilled polenta slices are good topped with cheese and grilled. Dried ground polenta can be used in baking, is often added to pastry and is a key ingredient of cornbread.