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TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Serve Polenta (Gluten-Free Comfort Food)

Fall reminds us of polenta, a comfort food from Italy, served hot. (It’s comforting like mashed potatoes.)

Polenta is cornmeal (photo #1) that is often boiled served as breakfast porridge (here’s the difference between grits and polenta).

Its versatility allows it to be incorporated into mains and sides for lunch and dinner.

You can also slice it and use it as a base for appetizers or hors d’oeuvre.

That’s because when polenta cools, it solidifies into a loaf (photo #2) that can sliced and baked, fried, or grilled.

Polenta—which is both the Italian word for cornmeal and a cooked dish made from it—has become familiar in America through Italian and Continental restaurants.

But it’s not new to America.

For the first two centuries on the continent, American diets contained much cornmeal: in bread, as breakfast porridge, as a side starch, and in other recipes.

Paradoxically, corn, which is native to the Americas, was shipped to Europe, where Italians turned it into polenta.

Back in the Americas, except for the Southern region, cornmeal was gradually replaced in American diets by refined wheat flour (note that milled polenta is not a whole grain).
Is Polenta Gluten Free?

Polenta is naturally gluten-free (the only grains that do naturally contain gluten are barley, rye and wheat).

Since so many other grains are processed in facilities that also handle these latter grains, however, some varieties of polenta may become contaminated with trace amounts of gluten.

Some brands of polenta print “gluten-free” directly onto their product labels for easy identification. Others don’t.

To be certain, check the label carefully for allergy information or a statement such as, “Produced in a facility that also handles wheat, rye or barley.”

Such a statement doesn’t mean cross-contamination has occurred, but it does increase the likelihood.
Polenta Nutrition

For most of history, polenta was grains of ground cornmeal that were stirred into boiling water until the grains plumped into a cooked cereal.

But with the advance of milling methods, it became more efficient to process the cornmeal.

While corn itself is a whole grain, polenta is refined: It is degerminated cornmeal, which has the germ and endosperm—(which contain the fiber and other nutrition—removed.

As with all refined grains, including white rice, the majority of the grains we consume have left their protein, iron and vitamins on the factory floor.

You can make polenta from scratch, or buy it in rolls, available in most supermarkets (photo #2).

The latter makes it easy to create stacked appetizers and sides. It’s available in plain plus flavors such as basil-garlic and sundried tomato.
We have to add a note here, that while we regularly buy all three, the flavor impact of the basil and the sundried tomato versions is not truly discernable. Note to Ancient Harvest: Add more flavor!

The only limit is your creativity.
While it pairs delightfully with meat, poultry and seafood, polenta is a great canvas for vegetarian and vegan dishes. Try it for your next Meatless Monday.

In addition to breakfast polenta—both as porridge and fried and served with eggs, we regularly serve it:

  • With a grilled vegetable plate.
  • In a “Polenta Caprese” salad, adding to, or instead of, tomato or mozzarella.
  • Polenta Parmesan, topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella, melted, then garnished with diced fresh basil and

  • Chili & Polenta Savory Cobbler
  • Garden Ratatouille With Crispy Rosemary Polenta & Stuffed Pork Chops
  • Gorgonzola Polenta Bites
  • Grilled Polenta & Cliantro Appetizer
  • Grilled Polenta Kabobs (photo #2)
  • Grilled Polenta Skewers With Peach BBQ Sauce, an appetizer or snack
  • Mojo Verde Polenta Bites
  • Polenta Appetizer Stacks and many more polenta recipes
  • Polenta Breakfast Bowl (photo #3)
  • Polenta Casserole With Sweet Potatoes & Garden Vegetables
  • Polenta Crostini With Shrimp & Grits
  • Polenta Eggs Benedict (polenta instead of the English muffin)
  • Polenta Lasagna With Spinach, Butternut Squash & Quinoa (polenta substitutes for the noodles)
  • Polenta Pesto Lasagna
  • Polenta Pizza Bites, an appetizer or snack
  • Polenta With Beets, an appetizer or light lunch
  • Ratatouille With Crispy Polenta
  • Smoked Paprika Shrimp With Poblano Polenta & Red Pepper-Agave Sauce
  • Sweet Potato Polenta Bake, a cheesy vegetarian main
  • Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie With A Polenta Top Crust

  • Blueberry Polenta Cake (photo #6)
  • Olive Oil Polenta Cake for dessert!
  • Polenta Cookies)

    Heirloom Polenta
    [1] Organic yellow polenta made from heirloom corn, from Anson Mills. The company also sells white polenta from heirloom white corn (photo © Anson Mills).

    Ancient Harvest Polenta
    [2] Polenta Kabobs made with refrigerator-case polenta. Here’s the recipe from Ancient Harvest (photo © Ancient Harvest).

    Polenta Breakfast Bowl
    [3] Polenta for breakfast or brunch, in a beautiful bowl with eggs, vegetables and cheese (the polenta is hiding underneath the toppings). Here’s the recipe from DeLallo (photo © DeLallo).

    Polenta Mushroom Casserole
    [4] Polenta Mushroom Casserole for lunch or dinner. Here’s the recipe from Oh My Veggies. (photo © Oh My Veggies.

    Polenta & Beets
    [5] Polenta appetizer with beets. Here’s the recipe from Blue Diamond (photo © Blue Diamond).

    Blueberry Polenta Cake
    [6] Ready for dessert? Here’s the recipe for this Blueberry Polenta Cake (photo © The Blueberry Council).



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