Polenta is the all time Italian comfort food. It is made from finely ground cornmeal, and is a great alternative as a side instead of rice or potatoes, or it can be eaten on... its own as a porridge with soft Fontina cheese stirred into it. In northern Italy, it is often cooled in the refrigerator, then cut into squares and lightly broiled to make a crispy side for rich Fall mushroom stews, but you can top it with any of your favorite cooked vegetables, chicken or fish.
In a heavy pot bring the water and salt to a boil. Gradually whisk in cornmeal, stirring all the while. Turn the heat down to low and stir constantly for about 30 minutes for cornmeal or 15 minutes for instant polenta.
For set polenta, pour into a lightly greased baking pan and allow to cool, then keep in the refrigerator until cold before slicing. If serving the polenta soft, stir in the olive oil or butter and Parmesan cheese, if using, and serve within 20 minutes.
Always take care to buy quick-cook instant polenta. It’s tastes just as good as regular polenta. Making the real thing requires a lot of stirring and can be quite messy — it bubbles and sputters in the pan like a volcano as it cooks! This recipe makes 6 servings (each 1/2 cup) so remember to adjust the calorie count of your meal if you have more than this.