Creamy Polenta

The simplicity of this creamy polenta recipe belies its true wonderfulness. This polenta is so light, so fluffy, so creamy, it could almost be a dessert. Polenta is made from coarsely ground cornmeal and is a staple of Northern Italy. It makes a wonderful serving base for osso bucco, short ribs or oxtail. In this recipe the polenta is slowly cooked in water with a little butter, then finished with stirring in some cream cheese and salt. Easy to make and absolutely delicious.

Creamy Polenta Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup medium-grain yellow polenta
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup cream cheese

Method

1 Heat water lightly seasoned with salt to a boil over high heat, about 5 minutes. Quickly whisk in the polenta until fully incorporated.

2 Lower the heat to a low simmer, add the butter and allow the polenta to cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

3 Finish by stirring in the cream cheese and salt to taste.

If preparing in advance, cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat in the microwave, about 5 minutes on high, just before serving. Stir vigorously after reheating to fluff.

Serves 8.

32 Comments

  1. Tea

    This looks so good! I love polenta–ate a lot of it in my gluten-free phase. I will definitely be trying out this version. Thanks.

  2. Helen

    Hi Elise,

    The polenta looks awesome. What brand of corn-meal did you use?

    Note from Elise: I’m pretty sure we bought organic polenta in bulk at Whole Foods.

  3. Irene Hahn

    I love polenta, but have never made it myself.

    I’ve never bought polenta. What do I have to look for to get a decent choice?

  4. Amber

    I use a brand called Bob’s Red Mill, because everything I have ever bought from them has been great. The web site, bobsredmill.com tells you where you can find their stuff. Otherwise, just look for cornmeal that says ‘medium grind’ to get good texture. I made this last night and it was fantastic! Thanks!

  5. pc

    This was my first polenta experience, and at first I thought hmm this is a bit rich, but then I couldn’t…stop…eating…it…

    Just a fair warning to anyone watching their weight ;)

  6. Mark

    This is my standard polenta recipe and it is foolproof if you follow the directions. We try to do a cheese tasting once a week. Then I’ll take several of the remaining pieces and put them in the food processor with 1 tbs cream, 1 tbs white wine, and puree. That will be the cheese mixture I add to the polenta along with the 1/2 the butter amount at the very end. Tonight a mixture of Rogue River Crater Lake Blue and a ripe french goat cheese (2 to 4 oz total)will finish the polenta and accompany a chanterelle and spinich stuffed pork tenderloin. Don’t count the calories, but it is an amazing combo. Thanks Elise, this is still my favorite food blog!

  7. Charlotte

    Wow! First time ever eating or making fresh polenta….this was outstanding! Thank you! P.S. not sure if there is a difference, but I did use “instant polenta”. Fantastic dish!

  8. Alison @ Wholesome Goodness

    Oh, wow! This was fabulous. My husband had never tried polenta before, and I had never cooked it, but this was super easy and so tasty. I’ll definitely make this again. We love your recipes, Elise. Thanks!

  9. Elsa

    Wow, this takes me back. I’m Cuban and my grandmother used to make it for me when I was a kid for breakfast. We call it harina (h is silent). She used the fine cormeal and was sweet, mmmmmmmmmmm!

  10. The Duck Juice Chronicles

    I’ve made this several times, most recently last night to go with Ancho/Coffee Short Ribs and roasted brussels sprouts. I didn’t have cream cheese so I substituted a little sour cream, which I’ve done before and it works out fine. Also, for these short ribs, I stir some shredded cheddar cheese into the polenta and garnish the top with a bit more. I also second the recommendation of Bob’s Red Mill polenta. It’s a bit coarser than most, but it’s also high-quality and delicious.

    The best part about this is that it is truly foolproof.

  11. Dr. Epicure

    I absolutely love this recipe! It is also wonderful for variations…replace the cream cheese with mozzarella, use Neufchatel another time, use chicken broth instead of water, add garlic, experiment with different cheeses. You can do a little twist and have a different polenta each time, and each time it will be great!

    One thing though…always make it ahead of time! At the bare minimum, refrigerate it for 4 hours and then re-heat on the stove. You might need to add more liquid, up to 1.5 cups, as you fluff it up. Just keep sprinkling water (letting it get absorbed) and stirring until it’s the consistency you want. Each time I’ve made this, it’s been great right off the stove, but the next day it’s been SOOOOOO much better. The flavors get a chance to mingle, and the texture is heavenly (note–it will look like a gelatinous brick when you take it out of the fridge…fear not! Just keep whisking over medium heat adding water as needed, and it comes out beautifully).

    So, when you first make it, you’ll think “It can’t get better than this!” and you’ll want to eat it right away…resist temptation and put it in the fridge–you’ll be glad you did!

    Interesting that you like it better the next day. I prefer the freshly made to the leftovers myself. ~Elise

  12. patty

    My first attempt at polenta a while back was unremarkable, but I was finally up for trying it again and this was a huge hit! I used a bit less butter and cream cheese than called for and added pecorino for some added depth. It was so rich and delicious, we couldn’t stop eating it! Will definitely become a staple in our home

  13. Melissa

    This was fantastic – super easy and delicious. Not overly cheesy or runny…just right. I used Bob’s Red Mill corn grits. Following the recipe ended up in enough for my husband and me, and maybe one more biggish serving leftover. I’m thinking of eating it with breakfast tomorrow. :)

  14. Jerseymomof2

    Holy cow! This is fantastic! I’d made polenta years ago, but clearly I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. This is so good, I can’t wait until dinner. I keep eating it!

  15. Denise

    I love polenta but everytime I’ve made it it’s been a disaster. The recipes always call for ground cornmeal and the result is always like flavored sawdust. The cornmeal seems to be too fine and powdery. I think it would come out better if I used grits as they seem to have more of the consistency that I’ve experienced in restaurant polenta. If you can shed some light on how to make using something other than the usual cornmeal found in a supermarket. I have never seen uncooked/dried polenta meal for sale. Thanks!

  16. Marilena

    Hi,

    We make polenta in Romania similar to this a lot. We just boil it in water with salt until it is creamy as above and then we use it with sour cream and grated cheese or with yoghurt or with milk. The sour cream addition makes it irresistible!

  17. Ti

    Wow! I just made my first pot o’ polenta out of many more to come. Instead of water, I used 3 cups chicken stock and 1 cup milk. I also omitted the cream cheese as I used a blend of hard italian cheeses, 1 T honey, and a few gratings of nutmeg. Topped with a hearty mushroom sauce. This polenta could be altered several ways because the foundation is so fantastic! Thanks for such an amazingly simple terrific recipe! I have now subscribed to this tasty blog! :)

  18. Penny

    For breakfast lately I do this: add 1/4 c. polenta to 2 c. boiling water. Simmer and let thicken, then when it’s rich and bubbly, add grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and serve with sauteed mushrooms. For the deluxe version, top with a fried egg. Rainy morning heaven!

  19. Nichole

    oh jeeze. I looked up the ratio of polenta to liquid a couple weeks ago which led me straight to you. Now I’m addicted to these. Seriously. I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be good on them or in them. I only use about 1/3 c cream cheese so I can justify eating them daily …

  20. Anonymous

    Love, love love polenta. I use tofu cream cheese even in cheese cake (I know sounds gross but you cannot tell. I have served to many people and they cannot tell the difference) i am not vegan but love to eat rich food and have high cholesterol so try and find good substitutes. I believe the brand I use in Tofi ( I am not 100 percent sure as I am not looking at it) So after this long winded history am wondering if this would work in polenta?

  21. Rebecca

    Delicious! Used ricotta instead of the cream cheese because I had it on hand and it turned out perfectly. The first night we ate it with chicken paprikas ( your recipe as well :). The next morning my 18 month old and I finished it off for breakfast!

  22. Mandy

    I have made this several times now and absolutely love it. Tonight I made it with mascarpone instead of cream cheese. Delish!

  23. Christina Stone

    I just made it with white corn meal and it reminds me of cream of wheat which i loved so much as a kid and coincidentally had been missing of late, except I think I’ll allergic to wheat so had been avoiding it. Now I can have it in polenta form. Thanks. Oh, and kids liked it, always nice surprise at our picky dinner table.

  24. CE

    I am so addicted to this dish!!! My husband requests it at least once a week. I serve it with all kinds of Italian food, but our absolute favorite is to top the polenta with braised balsamic chicken. It’s a moment in paradise!! Thank you so much for posting this recipe. Mangia!

  25. Dimas

    Polenta is a very common dish in Brazil, and we love it. A very good variation to serve with black coffe is a thicker one (I think more cooking or less liquid) fried with a film of oil,

    You cut it in 2 inchs long squared about 1/4 inch (litle bit larger than a potato for French fries) and toast it to brown in a pan. Serve hot.

  26. FL

    This recipe is very rich with the 1:1 polenta to cream cheese ratio (plus butter). The cream cheese and butter also cover the taste of the polenta more than is to my liking. Accordingly, I’d suggest adding cream cheese to taste. The second time I made this dish, I only ended up using one-third of a cup.

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