Polenta is one of those pantry staples that’s always useful to have on hand – it’s cheap, quick to make, extremely adaptable and – depending on how you cook it – really tasty!
There are a number of ways to prepare polenta, from keeping it fairly thin and porridge like, to a thicker, heartier mixture akin to mashed potato. You can also cook it and then bake or refrigerate it and serve it sliced into pieces.
The main way I have been enjoying polenta lately is made into a sweet lemon-y breakfast porridge. I started out experimenting by using some fresh lemon juice squeezed into the mixture, and then experimented with adding in some preserved lemon, which I love for the added tang. To counteract the tanginess and slight acidity of the lemons, I’ve been making a simple coconut (dairy) yoghurt which I then sweeten with raw honey (you could buy a commercial coconut yoghurt to use here if you prefer, or make your own). To serve, I’ve been adding a range of different toppings, though I strongly suggest using fresh mint here as it complements the other flavours really well.
I ate this breakfast a lot in the final weeks of getting ready to open the Food Photography + Styling Guides – I wanted a quick breakfast, but something that still tasted delicious and felt a little special and different to my normal weekday breakfasts, and this ticked all the boxes. Some of the shots here are ones that I styled to use in styling/editing examples for the guides hence the different look to them, but I wanted to share them here so you could see the different toppings that I used. The mint and yoghurt topping is detailed in the recipe below, the apple crumble topping is from this recipe.
There are apparently a number of “rules” when cooking polenta, though I’m not really one to adhere to rules when cooking – unless it’s something particularly complex to make, or it’s my first time making something – I generally prefer to cook based on prior knowledge, and observing the dish as it cooks – is it too dry? Does it need more salt/sweetener/acidity? Is the texture how I want it? So as you may have guessed I haven’t really been following the “rules” when making my polenta (I know right – what a rebel! ;) )
The important thing I find it to keep an eye on it – polenta can cooks quickly, especially when using finely ground cornmeal. I usually heat the liquid first, add in the cornmeal and stir, and then add more liquid if needed. I’m not too precious about it though, as long as you keep an eye on it and make sure it’s not getting too thick, you should be fine. If it does get too thick, the texture can get quite chunky and it can be a little hard to salvage!
Note that the recipe here uses finely ground cornmeal which cooks in around 5 minutes. If you choose to use a medium or coarsely ground cornmeal, you will need to cook longer, up to 50 minutes. Follow the cooking instructions on the package if you choose to go down this route.
What to look for when buying polenta
Polenta is made from ground corn – that is, cornmeal. You can make it from fine, medium or coarsely ground cornmeal, depending on your preference as to how smooth you like the end texture. You can also purchase premade polenta, though if you choose to do this ensure that there are no artificial preservatives added.
The two things I would recommend looking out for when buying through are to look for organic certification, and GMO-free, especially if purchasing cornmeal in America where this practice is more common among rice crops.
- ½ cup finely ground organic cornmeal
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 cup milk of choice (or ½ cup milk, ½ cup water)
- ½ Tbsp sweetener of choice
- 1 tsp finely minced preserved lemon peel
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup yoghurt
- 2 Tbsp coconut cream
- 1 heaped tsp raw honey
- Coconut yoghurt (see above)
- Sliced banana
- Fresh mint leaves
- Extra milk or cream
- Thinly sliced preserved lemon peel, optional
- To make the polenta, add the water, milk, and sweetener to a pan and heat until just starting to boil. Reduce the heat to low and add in the cornmeal. Stir well to combine and then allow to simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the cornmeal. You will need to stir frequently (though not continuously) during this time to ensure it doesn't stick and for even consistency. If it's looking too thick, feel free to add another splash or two of liquid until it looks right. Once it's cooked, stir through the lemon juice and minced preserved lemon peel.
- To make the coconut yoghurt, simply combine the yoghurt, coconut cream and honey (you may need to soften the jar of honey in some hot water first to get it a bit runny) in a small bowl and mix well until combined.
- To assemble, add half the polenta to bowl and scoop on half the yoghurt. Add some slice banana, a splash of milk or cream and scatter with buckinis and mint leaves.
Choose a sweetener which is quite mild in flavour here so that it does not overpower the flavour of the polenta or lemon. You just want it to sweeten the dish, not add flavour. The most obvious choice here would be white sugar, but for a more natural sweetener, I use either a light raw honey, or coconut nectar.