Ok…so first thing is first! What is the difference between polenta and cornmeal…and grits for that matter? In case you are wondering what to buy, or whether it matters, I am including an overview below that might prove helpful.
When I began the Flavor Trend Journey with Sargento Cheese and Rick Bayless last winter, Rick identified ancient grains and, specifically, Peruvian foods as one of the hot new trends in both home cooking and restaurants. I often cook with quinoa, which falls squarely into this trend. While of a different heritage, polenta is another ancient grain that can be used in fresh new ways.
- Cornmeal is a coarse flour or “meal” ground from dried corn. It is ground to either a fine, medium, or coarse consistency and is commonly white or yellow but may even blue in color. The following items fall under the heading of cornmeal.
- Polenta is cornmeal that has been boiled into a porridge; it is of Italian heritage. It may be eaten as porridge or the porridge may subsequently be baked, grilled, or fried.
- Grits refers to another dish of boiled ground corn. It is Native American in origin and common in the Southern United States. Modern grits are typically made of hominy, which is an alkali-treated corn.
Traditionally, Italian polenta and Southern grits are made from a different variety of corn, lending a coarser and more toothsome texture to polenta. In a nutshell, cornmeal refers to the actual corn product, while polenta and grits refer to the dish. However, modern packaging confuses the issue. For practical purposes, however, purchase a coarsely ground cornmeal and you will be equipped for either option.
Leave anything labeled “instant” or “quick-cooking” on the shelf; this means it’s been par-cooked. It will be lacking in that corn-flavor you’re looking for.
Look for the words “stone-ground” when shopping for any kind of cornmeal. Unlike commercially-produced cornmeal, stone-ground cornmeal still has the hull and the oil-rich germ of the kernel attached. “Degerminated” cornmeal means that the hull and germ have been removed.
So back to this recipe! I love this creation for its utter ease of preparation and ingredients which are easily kept on hand. Served with a simple salad or green vegetable on the side, it is a satisfying, complete meal. Again, look for coarsely ground cornmeal if you don’t see a package labeled as polenta. If finely-ground cornmeal is used, the polenta will likely be mushier and may retain a floury taste.
Yields 4-6 servings.
- 1 1/2 cups polenta or coarsely ground cornmeal
- 2 cups water, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3/4 cup marinara or pizza sauce
- 3/4 - 1 cup Sargento shredded cheese (mozzarella or Italian blend are my favorites for this recipe; see notes)
- Optional: Any of your favorite pizza toppings from black olives to pepperoni, torn basil for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch pie plate.
- Combine the polenta and 1 cup of cold water in a small bowl and stir well. Bring the second cup of water to a boil in a medium pot and transfer the polenta mixture to the boiling water.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 4 minutes or until thick, stirring regularly. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and Parmesan cheese.
- Spread the mixture evenly into the greased pie plate, working the polenta up the sides of the plate. I like to use a rubber spatula which doesn't stick to the polenta.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until slightly crisp at the edges. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees F.
- Top the crust evenly with the sauce and the shredded cheese. Add additional pizza toppings if using. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is thoroughly melted.
- Sprinkle with torn basil, if desired.
- I find if I use finely shredded cheese, 3/4 of a cup is plenty. With a thicker shred, I tend to use closer to one cup. Use the amount that covers the sauce as you like, depending on personal preference and the type of cheese used.
For my sauce recipe, click here.
The crust recipe was inspired by a package of Shiloh Farms polenta.