Polenta is a popular side dish here at the farmhouse. For years, I made polenta from cornmeal purchased at the grocery store. The recipe was foolproof and always produced a polenta that had a lovely texture and flavor. We were very happy with the consistently good results we had making polenta to serve at our family table.
Then we added a WonderMill grain mill to our arsenal of kitchen tools and our good polenta was transformed into a great, show stopping dish. By making the simplest of changes to the cornmeal we were using, our polenta became a richly flavored, earthy masterpiece. The only change was that we were milling our own cornmeal instead of using store bought meal. It’s shocking what a difference freshly milled cornmeal can make.
Milling the cornmeal was incredibly easy once I had sourced the corn to grind in the WonderMill. I searched in vain for a local source for dried dent corn, but couldn’t find any that was safe for us to have here in our nut free home. After doing a little research, I found that other home millers used popcorn kernels to make their own cornmeal. Popcorn is readily available in different varieties, including organic, so I was eager to see what type of meal it would produce.
In a matter of minutes, an entire two pound bag of popcorn kernels had been processed through the mill on the coarse setting. The resulting meal was congruent with evenly ground particles. The smell of the warm meal was amazing, full of the aroma of freshly cooked corn.
I couldn’t wait to use this home ground meal in our beloved polenta recipe and taste the results. Polenta with Heirloom Tomato Sauce was added to our menu board for the following night’s dinner. As soon as it was bubbling away on the stove, the amazing aroma told me that this home ground meal was going to make all the difference.
Both the flavor and texture of the polenta made with our freshly milled meal was superior to the polenta we had been making. In fact, the intensity of the pure corn flavor was amazing. It transcended the entire dish from something ordinary to extraordinary. While the polenta we had made in the past was always a good base for a sauce or topping, this polenta was a great component of the dish.
This polenta’s intense, earthy flavor was robust enough to shine through the topping instead of just providing a backdrop to it. Since then, we have made this recipe many times, yet I am still surprised by what a difference the freshly milled cornmeal makes. It is rare that such a simple effort in the kitchen makes such a huge impact on a dish. Thankfully, it’s achievable for anyone who has a mill and a few handfuls of popcorn in the pantry. One taste and I’m sure that you and your family will agree: fresh home ground cornmeal makes all the difference in the world.
- 8 cups liquid (water, stock, bone broth, or a combination)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups fresh cornmeal milled on the coarse setting
- salt and pepper
- In a large pot, bring the 8 cups of liquid to a rapid boil. Add the salt and return to boil. Place the cornmeal in a large mixing bowl. Using a ladle, add some of the boiling water into the cornmeal, whisking to incorporate. Add enough water to make a thin batter. Slowly add the thin batter to the remaining boiling water, whisking constantly. Adding the cornmeal to the liquid in this manner will help to prevent lumps from forming, making a creamier polenta.
- Return the cornmeal mixture to a boil while whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Continue to simmer, uncovered, whisking often for approximately 30 minutes. Take care when whisking the hot polenta as it has a tendency to bubble and pop as it is simmering.
- The polenta will thicken as it cooks; yet retain a smooth and silky texture. If the mixture becomes too thick, simply add a bit of warm liquid and whisk to combine. Taste the polenta for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove the polenta from the heat. At this point, the polenta can be served by ladling onto serving plates and topping with your favorite sauce, meat, and vegetables. It makes a lovely base for richly flavored dishes like braised lamb shanks or brisket.
- The polenta can also be baked to create a dish that can be sliced into individual portions for serving. In order the bake the polenta, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a shallow casserole dish or baking pan for the polenta by brushing with a thin coating of olive oil. Transfer the polenta from the cooking pot to the prepared baking dish. Spread the polenta to the edges of the pan, smoothing the top of the mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly cover the surface of the polenta with olive oil. Season with fresh salt and pepper and add a liberal amount of grated Parmesan cheese if desired. Place the polenta in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
- After the 10 minutes have passed, turn on the oven’s broiler. Broil the polenta for approximately five minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Remove the polenta from the oven. Cut the polenta into squares and transfer portions of polenta to plates. Serve hot and enjoy!