Serve it for breakfast or dinner; polenta is a versatile dish. But with its yellow tint and slight grit, it looks a lot like cornmeal and grits. So what's the difference?
Cornmeal may be made from blue, white or yellow corn and ground into fine, medium or coarse textures. Cornmeal is the traditional ingredient in cornbread, but can be used in other dishes for texture and sweetness. Grits are simply the coarsest grind of cornmeal and are part of a typical Southerner's breakfast. However, quick cooking grits may be made out of hominy, which is whole corn kernels with the hull and germ removed, shortening the preparation time but decreasing the nutrients.
Polenta is actually a dish, not an ingredient. It's also been given the terrible and unappetizing name, "mush." It refers to a porridge originating in Italy made of bright yellow corn that has been grounded into cornmeal and heated in boiling water. Even though it's not really an ingredient, you can find dry polenta in the stores. Those labeled polenta mean that the grind of corn is appropriate to make polenta, but you can substitute medium or coarsely ground cornmeal instead.
Polenta can also be bought already prepared in tubes. It's convenient and can be made into many dishes. Just slice; bake, grill or sauté. It turns crispy on the outside while soft on the inside. It tastes great baked as French fries (recipe below), used as a base for a bean salsa, or replacing the wheat noodles in lasagna.
Polenta is naturally gluten-free, low in calories and fat, and moderate in fiber. Polenta made from stone ground cornmeal retains some of the hull and germ, making it more nutritious.
Polenta Steak Fries (Printable PDF)
1 tube (18 oz. or 1 lb.) polenta
1 Tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon chili powder
? teaspoon paprika
? teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 425?F. Cut polenta in half crosswise. Then cut each half lengthwise into eight strips. Place strips on the baking sheet and drizzle with oil. In a small bowl, stir together seasonings. Sprinkle polenta strips with seasoning and stir to coat. Arrange strips in single layer. Bake 45-50 minutes until golden crisp, turning once halfway through.
Yield: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts per serving: 121 calories, 3 grams fat, 383 milligrams sodium, 20 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams protein