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An Italian storecupboard staple, polenta has its roots in the peasant cuisine of northern Italy.
It's made by grinding corn into flour, or meal. It has a rich yellow, yolk-like colour, and has a slightly sweet flavour.
Polenta can be cooked to be creamy and thick, or allowed to set and then sliced. Serve it instead of pasta, rice or potatoes. Use in place of breadcrumbs to coat chicken or fish when frying.
Uncooked polenta makes a delicious addition or gluten-free alternative to flour in cakes, biscuits and pastries. Cakes made with polenta tend to be moist and dense with a pleasantly grainy texture.
Uncooked polenta can be used in place of flour in specific baking recipes. For savoury dishes, pour the polenta into boiling water, following the quantities on the packet, and stir. The length of time it takes to cook depends on the type you've bought. It can then be eaten in this way or poured into a baking tray, allowed to set, sliced, grilled or baked.
To add extra flavour, you can boil polenta in a mix of half water, stock or milk. Add a knob of butter, a handful of grated parmesan or sprinkling of gorgonzola.
Find top recipes and tips in our how to cook with polenta guide.
See our polenta recipes for the ultimate selection.
Store in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place.
It's available all year round, from supermarkets or delis. Buy it in grain form on the pasta aisle – it's sometimes called corn meal (not cornflour), which is the American term, and used in cornbreads and stuffings.
Polenta is available in various grades, ranging from coarse to fine. Different types have different cooking times, some up to 45 mins, but you can also buy part-cooked instant polenta, which is ready in 5-8 mins.
Ready-made polenta is available in solid tubes or blocks – this just needs to be sliced and heated.