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Polenta is an Italian staple made from cornmeal (dried ground corn); the cornmeal is sometimes also called polenta. The cooked dish can be served immediately, in which case it is a soft tasty mush, or it can be pressed into a pan, dried, cut into squares, and fried or baked. I much prefer the former, for it is moister and more pleasant. I find "leftover" polenta akin to day-old cornbread: dry. Blech.

Above there's your stovetop method and your oven method. I have always used the former, but find it preferable to utilize a double boiler to prevent burning. There is an initial intensive stirring period, after which an occasional turn of the wooden spoon will suffice. It's not difficult to make.

As with anything relying so much on one ingredient - cornmeal, in this case - the best quality helps. I fully concur with lalala that "Bob's Red Mill" is the best; for those who don't live in North America, look for coarse stone ground cornmeal. It will have the best texture and flavour.

What you need to make tasty creamy polenta for four:

What to do:

Combine the liquid with the salt and lime rind in a heavy saucepan and bring to boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium. (If you have a double boiler, do this in the top pot of the pair.)

Very gradually add the cornmeal, stirring constantly. (Don't add it too quickly or the mixture will be lumpy and that's not nice). Once it's all in there, reduce the heat a bit and cook for about five minutes, stirring often, till it's thick and fairly smooth.

Meanwhile, get an inch or so of water boiling in the bottom of the double boiler. (If you don't have one, you'll need to improvise: use a heatproof bowl that can sit over the water in the pot. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't sit in the water.)

Stir in the cheese, cream, and butter. Reduce the heat under the pot of water to medium-low and place the polenta pot over it (or spoon the polenta into the bowl and put it in the pot, over the water). The water in the bottom pot should simmer, not boil.

Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes, till the polenta is smooth and doesn’t feel grainy when rubbed between your finger and thumb. Serve immediately with any kind of braised meat or savoury saucy vegetable dish.

Other polenta recipes on e2: