Whether it's the main course or part of dessert, this Italian staple is sure to win over your family.

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Parmesan Pork with Polenta and Asparagus
Credit: Ren Fuller

Looking for a way to switch up your usual dinner routine? Try cooking polenta. You can serve this basic side dish on its own or alongside protein such as Pressure-Cooker Short Ribs, pan-seared chicken, or seafood. Here, we're sharing our favorite ways to serve polenta for dinner as well as a few creative variations on this satisfying staple.

How to Cook Polenta

This classic Italian dish is made with stone-ground, dried yellow corn kernels (polenta is coarser than traditional cornmeal), water, and butter. To make polenta, bring four cups of water to a boil. While stirring constantly, slowly add one cup of polenta, letting the grains pass through your fingers in a steady stream. Stir consistently to prevent the polenta from forming large clumps and sticking to the pan. After about 30 minutes, the polenta will be cooked through and tender. Remove it from the heat and stir in two tablespoons of butter. Season with salt and feel free to add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, too.

In addition to traditional polenta, you may also find quick-cooking or instant polenta in the grocery store. This product is made from either very fine corn kernel grains or is par-cooked. Some of our recipes, like this Rosemary Polenta Cake, call for quick-cooking polenta. However, if a recipe does not call for the quick-cooking version, then you should use the traditional, coarse style of polenta.

How to Serve Polenta for Dinner

Looking for a dinner recipe that features polenta as the side dish? Try Chili with Polenta and Vegetables—it's the ultimate warm-weather comfort food. Creamy polenta made with a combination of water and milk is the base for our classic Easy Beef Chili recipe. The polenta is topped with ladles of chili, plus sautéed vegetables such as cremini mushrooms and chopped fresh spinach. Another Italian-inspired winner is Parmesan Pork with Polenta and Asparagus, pictured here. Pork cutlets are dredged in a combination of lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, and flour, then pan-fried until brown and crisp. Or try this all-in-one, French-inspired Tian Provencal With Polenta; creamy polenta is spread in the bottom of a baking dish and topped with sliced leeks, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and grated Gruyère cheese.

You can also turn polenta into fries or wedges. These Easy Polenta Fries start with polenta slices, which you can buy in the store or make at home by cooking polenta, spreading it on a sheet tray, and letting it cool completely. Cut the polenta into 1/2-inch-thick "fries" and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast until crispy. These Polenta Wedges are another fun side dish—our recipe calls for lots of herbs and spices such as finely chopped chives, paprika, and Parmesan cheese, which add plenty of flavor.

Ending on a Sweet Note

You can even try polenta in desserts: It shines in this recipe for Rosemary Polenta Cake, which is made with quick-cooking polenta. The polenta is mixed with flour, baking powder, and finely chopped rosemary for this special Bundt cake recipe. Can't take a trip to Italy? Our Olive Oil Cake with Red Grapes will instantly transport you there. A trio of ground toasted almonds, all-purpose flour, and quick-cooking polenta cut down on the sweetness of this dessert and help to create a fine crumb texture.

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