Mashed potatoes can move right over! It’s time for Creamy Polenta to shine. This basic side dish will make any meal feel so special. Featuring parmesan and cream cheese, each bite is heavenly. Even the polenta pessimists won’t be able to resist a healthy dollop on their plates!
Creamy, cheesy, comforting, delicious. Creamy polenta is a favorite of mine when I have a special, saucy meal such as these Instant Pot Short Ribs. Mashed potatoes have a very special place in my heart, but I will choose this creamy polenta ten times out of ten when I’m making a side dish to soak up a red wine braise. Sacrilegious? I don’t care! It’s just too good. Plus, it’s even easier to make than mash.
It’s such a simple dish to make and, as a result, really easy to make it bland, or make it extra special. This version of polenta is something I love to make in place of mashed potatoes. The addition of cream cheese and parmesan cheese is a must! That is what transforms plain ol’ polenta from zero to hero, in my opinion, at least.
Want to get down to brass tacks? Click “Jump to the Recipe” at the top of the page or keep on scrolling to the recipe card for ingredient amounts and full recipe instructions. Have any questions? Keep reading my extra info below.
- Salt – Season to taste.
- Cornmeal – You need coarse cornmeal to make creamy polenta like this- not the lighter, ground, powdered version. They will be similar to grits. Some packages may even say “Polenta” on them.
- Butter – I like to use unsalted to have full control over the sodium.
- Cream cheese – Use more or less if you wish.
- Parmesan – The secret ingredient! Use freshly grated parmesan cheese for the best texture in your polenta. Add parmesan to taste- I usually like to add lots. It’s all up to your preference.
What is polenta?
This dish is much more common all around Europe than it is in North America. It is simply a dish of boiled cornmeal! When it’s hot, it will be creamy, similar to grits, like you see in these photos. Once it cools down, the polenta solidifies. You may have tried this version of polenta sliced and fried.
That’s it! Cornmeal + water. This combination gives you a plethora of options for your culinary adventures and the simplicity opens up many avenues for creativity with your own versions.
How to make creamy polenta
- Prep: Add the water and salt to a medium-sized pot over high heat. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the cornmeal. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens significantly, about 2 minutes.
- Cook: Keeping the mixture at a bare simmer, cook the cornmeal for 20 minutes, or until creamy and tender. Whisk very often to avoid the polenta splattering and/or sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Cheese it up: Remove the polenta from the heat. Stir in the butter, cream cheese, and parmesan cheese. Taste for salt, and serve hot.
Tips for making the best creamy polenta
- Stir, stir, stir. Polenta is very thick. The mixture will “bump” and the bubbles will splatter as it cooks. I keep a whisk in the pot, turn on an entertaining video, and babysit that pot for the whole time it cooks.
- Be careful! Keep the heat to a simmer and no more. The polenta will be very hot as it cooks. Low heat will keep splattering to a minimum.
- Use the parmesan like you would use salt. Add more cheese to taste if you’d like.
- This isn’t a great make-ahead dish! Since it solidifies once you let it cool down, make sure you cook your polenta fresh if you want to serve it creamy.
How to store leftover polenta
Let the polenta cool down, covered, until it has reached room temperature. Transfer it to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Polenta isn’t ideal for freezer storage. Much like mashed potatoes, it tends to release a lot of moisture once frozen and may thaw with an odd texture. It’s best to make it fresh for the nights you need it.
How to reheat creamy polenta
If you’ve made polenta before, you’ll know that it solidifies as it cools down. So much that you can slice it! If you have leftover polenta and you want to enjoy it creamy, you can still make that happen.
- Chop the polenta into pieces and add it to a pot with a splash of cream, milk, water, or broth.
- Gently heat the polenta over medium heat, until simmering, then reduce the heat to low. Stir the polenta well with a whisk until the mixture comes together and is, once again, creamy.
- Warm it through completely and serve immediately.
Did you love this simple recipe? Try these:
- Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
- Garlic Parmesan Polenta Fries
- Greek Salad
- Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
- The Best Crab Cakes
- 4 cups water
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- 1 cup coarse cornmeal
- 2 tbsp butter unsalted
- 1/4 cup cream cheese
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese*
- Add the water and salt to a medium-sized pot over high heat. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the cornmeal. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens significantly, about 2 minutes.
- Keeping the mixture at a bare simmer, cook the cornmeal for 20 minutes, or until creamy and tender. Whisk very often to avoid the polenta splattering and/or sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Remove the polenta from the heat. Stir in the butter, cream cheese, and parmesan cheese. Taste for salt, and serve hot.