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Basic Polenta (Soft or Set)

If you have leftover soft polenta, save it: Just pour it into a dish to set. For more detailed instructions, see our how-to.

  • Servings: 8
  • Yield: Makes 24 set pieces
Basic Polenta (Soft or Set)

Photography: Marcus Nilsson

Source: Martha Stewart Living, October 2007


For Serving Soft Polenta

  • 10 cups cold water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 cups coarse-ground polenta meal
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano


  1. Put 6 cups cold water, the salt, and bay leaf into a Dutch oven or a heavy stockpot, and bring to a boil. Bring remaining 4 cups cold water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat.

  2. Add polenta to large pot in handfuls, separating your fingers to let the grains slip through and whisking constantly until combined. Reduce heat until only a couple of large bubbles appear at a time.

  3. Whisk 2 ladlefuls of simmering water into polenta, and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until water has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Continue to add 2 ladlefuls of water every 5 minutes, stirring often and waiting for it to be absorbed before adding more, until polenta is creamy and just pulls away from sides of pot, about 45 minutes. (It may be necessary to adjust heat.)

  4. If not serving immediately, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover pot, and keep warm until ready to serve (up to 1 hour). Remove bay leaf. Season with pepper.

  5. For soft polenta only: Stir in butter. Use a damp spoon to serve. Top each serving with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

  6. For set polenta only: Pour into a slightly damp medium bowl (or a 13-by-9-inch baking dish). Let stand until no longer steaming, about 10 minutes. Refrigerate, uncovered, until cold and set, about 1 1/2 hours. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 2 days).

    Turn out polenta. Using plain dental floss, cut horizontally in half, pulling string toward you. Cut in half crosswise, pressing string downward. Cut each half lengthwise into 1 1/2-inch-wide strips, cut strips crosswise into thirds, and then into triangles or squares if desired. (Alternatively, cut polenta with a knife.)

Reviews (2)

  • Suzkookin 27 Mar, 2008

    My mother in-law said her Mother seved polenta on a small marble table. When set ,red sauce was spooned on top. Then sprinkled with cheese. You were given a fork and you dug in. She would serve hers in an oblong dish though.
    Also she would add cooked ground beef or ground sausage on top. The children loved this as toddlers. And they still do.

  • Allie from Albany 15 Mar, 2008

    An excellent food for THANKSGIVING, although I've yet to see it served. Tribal American dish. Grits are a more 'refined" version of corn mush (polenta) I think they remove the germ from the corn before they grind it up for grits.

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