The power of polenta

This versatile cornmeal treat brings a touch of Italy to many a delicious dish is polenta one of those foods you've heard about but don't really know? Have no fear; it's not mysterious.
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This versatile cornmeal treat brings a touch of italy to many a delicious dish is polenta one of those foods you've heard about but don't really know? Have no fear; it's not mysterious.

Polenta is cooked cornmeal- a longstanding comfort food of northern Italian origin that may even predate the invention of bread. Its soft, grainy texture and subtle flavor make it a perfect accompaniment for meat, fish, veggies, stews, sauces and ragouts.

And it can be prepared in a number of ways: soft and creamy (often likened to grits), grilled and sliced, baked, fried or gratinéed. No wonder the mellow European standard is gaining popularity in America's home kitchens as well as on its restaurant menus.

Preparing polenta from "scratch" using regular cornmeal is one option; the food can also be bought premade in a tube or in dry packaged form, and in a variety of grinds to suit different tastes.

Cooking involves slowly pouring the cornmeal into boiling water and stirring continuously until it reaches a thick consistency. From that point, the polenta can either be served from the pot or left to firm and cook further on the grill or in the frying pan.

It's good-news food for not just a full tummy but a flat one, too: Polenta is low in fat and high in iron, vitamin B6 and zinc-a rare comfort food that isn't uncomfortably guilt-inducing.

Grilled Polenta with Shrimp and Escarole

Serves 4


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons for drizzling
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
  • 2 14-ounce cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound peeled cooked shrimp (31-35 per pound; thawed if frozen), tails removed if desired
  • 6 cups thinly sliced escarole (about 1 small head) or spinach
  • 1 16-ounce tube prepared plain polenta, sliced into 8 rounds
  • 8 oil-cured olives, pitted and chopped (optional)


  1. Preheat grill to high.
  2. Place 1 tablespoon oil and garlic in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add tomatoes and oregano; bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce to a simmer and cook until juicy, about 3 minutes.
  7. Stir in shrimp and escarole; cook, stirring, until the escarole is wilted, about 2 minutes.
  8. Remove from the heat, cover and keep warm.
  9. Oil the grill rack. Grill polenta slices until hot and slightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
  10. Divide the sauce among 4 shallow bowls or plates. Top with the polenta slices, sprinkle with olives (if using) and drizzle each serving with 1⁄2 teaspoon oil. Serve immediately.

Nutritional facts, per serving:
293 calories; 8 grams of fat; 32 grams protein; 4 grams fiber; 634 milligrams sodium

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