Running Fuel: Polenta

The definition for the word simple is, “not involved or complicated, without additions or modifications, not elaborate, elegant or luxurious”. That is polenta. It’s also inexpensive and an excellent complex carbohydrate for runners. Put on your cooking apron and dig in!

Polenta is the Italian name for ground and cooked corn but worldwide it goes by many other names. The cornmeal is roughly ground up, not fine like flour. Don’t be surprised to see little brown specks in it, especially if you choose an organic type. Don’t buy “instant” polenta as it’s not the same quality. That’s like buying instant oatmeal instead of steel cut oats (steel cut rules!).

Just ground corn

Super Simple Polenta

Serves 6-8
Prep time:
 none!
Cooking time:
 40 – 50  minutes

  • a large pot
  • 2 litres warm water
  • 500 grams (1 lbs 1 oz.) cornmeal (polenta)
  • 1 tablespoon rock salt
Rock salt, not the same as fine salt...

Measure out 500 grams of dry polenta and slowly drizzle it into the 2 litres (a little more than two quarts) of warm water while stirring. Place the pot on a stove at moderate heat and cook the corn meal and water mixture while stirring it with a wood spoon, at least every minute.

Just warm water, corn meal and salt

In this first photo it’s really watery and milky looking…

Five minutes later...

…five minutes later  it’s already starting to firm up…

Not as pretty but this is what it should look like

Here we are fifteen minutes later. Put the burner on low and continue stirring, cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the polenta comes off and away from the bottom and sides of the pot. From start to finish this should be about 30 minutes. Now take the entire *pot of hot polenta…

My dining table, but it could be any surface

…and spread it out on a clean table or countertop using a wooden spoon.  In rustic style restaurants in northern Italy they put the polenta directly on your table for your eating pleasure. Spoon up a serving in a bowl while it’s hot and cover it with your favorite topping, or wait until it’s firmed up and…

This is my favorite version of Polenta

…Grill it. I don’t use oil when I grill polenta but once cooked it’s delicious with a drizzle of  olive oil. You can top it with pieces of melted cheese, tomato, meat or vegetable sauces, or cut into pieces and scattered on salads.

Storage size

If you have leftovers (or you want to cook it up to use for grilling later) just slice it into big chunks and refrigerate.  It’ll keep for up to a week, though in our home its never  lasted that long since we eat it up pretty fast! Buon Appetito!

(*Cleaning tip: after you’ve emptied the polenta onto the table fill the pot with hot soapy water right away. An hour later any sticky polenta will lift off without having to scrub the pot.)
  1. Tessa
    Hmmm, polenta goodness :) And now I know it's not only tasty but good for me as well!
  2. frances
    I love polenta! Did you know it makes an excellent and easy tart crust? Make it with a little vegetable stock for extra flavour - even stir in some parmesan at the end - then press into tart pan. Bake empty for a few minutes then add filling. Bon appetito! (And what a nice idea to have training foods!)
    • Shauna
      Oooh I bet that would be such a good texture... great idea :)
  3. Janet
    Homemade goodness. My mother would pat it into rounds, then fry and we put on butter and maple syrup.