Polenta – Traditional Polenta Cooking Recipe

Polenta - Traditional Polenta Cooking Recipe


Polenta is a staple of the traditional food of northeast Italy. Originally it was a peasant gruel made from a base of chickpeas, beans, or buckwheat.

Corn arrived in Europe from America in the sixteenth century and lent itself well to this method of preparing food. Both its easy cultivation and its high yield helped to stem famine, particularly in Trentino and Friuli. In these regions it is still called “Grano Turco” (Turkish grain), because corn was imported from Turkey in quantity during the seventeenth century.

Different types of polenta

  • Yellow polenta: prepared with yellow corn flour, this is the classic polenta. It adapts well to all sorts of recipes.
  • White polenta: prepared with white corn flour, this is the finest polenta. It is served with delicate foods such as fish.
  • Taragna polenta: prepared with buckwheat flour. This is more rustic and quite rich. It is accompanied by very simple sauces based on anchovies or cheese.
  • Chickpea or bean polenta: polenta is still prepared from these ingredients in the South of Italy.
  • Chestnut polenta: prepared with chestnut flour, in the Tuscan tradition.

Firm or soft?

There are several ways to prepare polenta: firm or soft, cooked and served immediately, cut into slices and then fried, broiled, or poached. It can also be baked in the oven as a gratin with other ingredients added to it (cheese, butter, tomato sauce, meat, etc.) The different-sized particles of the grain in the polenta flour naturally produce varying results. A fine-grained flour will result in a creamier polenta, but it is more difficult to make without lumps. With a thicker flour, it is easier to avoid lumps, but the polenta will be more rustic.

Polenta prepared with corn flour requires a long cooking time and needs to be stirred continually. These days, it is easy to find pre-cooked polenta flour commercially, which saves a great deal of time (it takes 5 minutes rather than 45 to 60 minutes). The results obtained from such products are perfectly acceptable.


Traditionally, polenta is cooked in a wide pan made from beaten copper known as a “paiolo” but you can now find paioli made from cast iron, aluminum with a nonstick lining, or from soapstone. There are even paioli available that have an integral electric whisk. Once cooked, the polenta can be poured onto a wooden board, allowed to cool, and then cut up with a cotton thread or knife. The classic polenta board is round.

Advice on making polenta

  • The quantities of polenta given are for 4 cups (1 liter) of water; however, depending on the type of flour, polenta may require more or less water.
  • Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the water just after adding the flour. This will save you having to stir constantly.
  • For a very fine polenta, you can avoid lumps by pouring the flour into the water before boiling point is reached.
  • For preference, use a coarse-grained flour (bramaia) for a firm polenta and a finer grained fIour (fioretto) for a soft polenta.
  • Always stir polenta in the same direction (as for mayonnaise, for example).
  • The cooking time for polenta is very important: the longer it is cooked, the more flavorsome and digestible it will become.
  • During the cooking process, air bubbles form inside the mass of polenta, these bubbles cause continuous eruptions, so be very careful that you do not get splashed and scalded.
  • Keep 1 cup (250 ml) of boiling water to hand in case the polenta becomes too thick.
  • You can cook the polenta in a pressure cooker. Once the flour and water are mixed, close the lid and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and reduce the pressure, then open the lid and stir vigorously before serving or pouring onto a polenta board.
  • To avoid stirring continuously during the cooking process, you can cook the polenta in a bain-marie, but the cooking time will be longer.

Traditional Polenta Cooking Recipe – Polenta tradizionale Recipe

Serves 4-6

  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Cooking time: 45-60 minutes


  • 4 cups (1 liter) water
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) salt
  • 2 ½ cups (10 oz./300 g) white or yellow polenta flour for firm polenta
  • 1 ½ cups (7 oz./200 g) white or yellow polenta flour for soft polenta

Polenta - Traditional Polenta Cooking Recipe 1


Polenta - Traditional Polenta Cooking Recipe 2

Polenta - Traditional Polenta Cooking Recipe 3

Cooking Method

  • Boil the water in a saucepan. Add the salt, then pour in the flour, mixing continuously with a whisk to prevent lumps forming (1).
  • Let simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring continuously (after the initial phase the whisk can be replaced by a wooden spoon) (2).
  • The polenta is cooked once it comes away from the sides of the saucepan and forms a cohesive mass. Spread it onto the polenta board and leave to firm up (3). (White polenta flour has been used in these photographs.)