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Please help -- what does polenta mean?

Produce Addict Dec 16, 2006 10:42 PM

actually, i know what it means, but i'm confused about its use in this cookie recipe. it sounds like they just want cornmeal, but if that's the case why don't they say it? prepared polenta is sold packaged in a tube -- they can't mean that, can they? any help would be appreciated.


  1. blue room Dec 16, 2006 11:10 PM

    Produce Addict, I'm not a foodstuffs expert!, but I just looked up polenta in 3 different places, and it is described as the mush made from cornmeal, NOT the cornmeal itself.
    I suppose you could make up a bit yourself if all you have is cornmeal.

    1. hagar4316 Dec 16, 2006 11:41 PM

      Polenta is cornmeal mush. No need to buy it. Make your own.

      1. a
        aelph Dec 16, 2006 11:46 PM

        There's cornmeal and there's cornmeal. I would assume they intend a specific grade/grain-size of polenta(a finer grade more akin to fine semolina?)...but who knows?

        1. c
          corry Dec 16, 2006 11:53 PM

          I like using cornmeal labeled as Polenta. It's a finer grain resulting in a creamy polenta. I get mine in the Italian market imported. Corry

          1. hrhboo Dec 16, 2006 11:53 PM

            It is regular dry polenta (i.e. cornmeal)

            1. revsharkie Dec 16, 2006 11:53 PM

              I have seen coarsely ground cornmeal labeled as polenta. Coarser, rather than finer, cornmeal is more commonly used for polenta.

              Whether this is what is meant in the recipe or whether they mean prepared polenta, I don't know. My advice would be to see if you can get hold of someone at the paper in which it was printed, and ask for clarification. You're probably not the only one with the question.

              2 Replies
              1. re: revsharkie
                hrhboo Dec 16, 2006 11:57 PM

                It isn't prepared polenta, it is just the dry grains. I have had these cookies at the restaurant and they have a definite grainy texture from the polenta. Prepared polenta is soft and would not add the desired grainy texture.

                Usually if a recipe requires the use of prepared polenta it would indicate whether it should be loose, medium or firm as this would greatly affect the consistency of the final product.

                1. re: hrhboo
                  notmartha Dec 17, 2006 03:26 AM

                  Second what hrhboo said. 100% sure it's the dry stuff. The cookies were served with the butterscotch budino (pudding in Italian) at Pizzeria Mozza. Actually I didn't like the cookies because of the cornmeal. It's definitely dry and stuck to my teeth. Others don't seem to notice the cornmeal at all.

              2. NYchowcook Dec 16, 2006 11:53 PM

                From reading the recipe, it looks to me like it's polenta -- coarse ground corn meal. Dry, uncooked. Buy it at your local natural food store, probably in bulk.

                Polenta means the dried grain, and the prepared dish that is polenta. It is always made w/ coarse grain corn meal. It is not "corn meal". I don't know frankly what the stuff in the tube is. Probably precooked polenta for frying. That's not what you want in your cookie recipe.

                1. t
                  tartetatin Dec 17, 2006 12:00 AM

                  I see why you are confused by this recipe Produce Addict. The way the recipe reads, it seems as if it calls for cornmeal, especially since it is added in with the flour, the dry ingredients together. It does not make sense to me that you would add polenta (cornmeal mush) to the recipe. On top of that, it would seem very difficult to mix actual polenta (cornmeal mush) into a cookie dough. I am sure that the polenta would not be easily incorporated into the mixture. Having said this, I really don't have an answer for you. I think I would try cornmeal first. Or you could try to call the restaurant and ask them :)

                  1. m
                    MakingSense Dec 17, 2006 04:20 AM

                    That stuff in the tube is partially cooked polenta meal to speed up a process that doesn't take very long anyway. You would end up with cooked polenta. Mush. That's not what you need for your recipe.

                    Polenta is ground flint corn. The cornmeal used for cornbread and grits is dent corn, a different variety which is softer and starchier. Anson Mills in South Carolina offers the best, made from heritage seed, all organic. They even sell polenta to Italy. http://www.ansonmills.com/polenta.htm They offer three different polentas at retail and many more for the restaurant trade. Lots of different varieties of grits and cornmeal as well.
                    In any case, polenta and grits refer to both the dry milled grain and the cooked products.

                    You should be able to find plain dry polenta at most large groceries today and certainly at any Italian specialty store.

                    1. c
                      ChiliDude Dec 17, 2006 11:42 AM

                      Since the recipe asks for only 1/2 cup of polenta, I assume that the stuff in tube that is already moist must be what is wanted.

                      When I make polenta, I use 1 cup of cornmeal with only 3 cups of water because I like it thick. This combination is then MICROWAVED!

                      You could try a couple of teaspoons of cornmeal with a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of water microwaved in a measuring cup and see if you get the consistency needed.

                      Because I'm a cheapskate, I mix cornmeal with farina as a breakfast cereal. Farina is troppo carissimo, cornmeal is cheap...thus the mixture.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ChiliDude
                        hrhboo Dec 17, 2006 05:35 PM

                        If the recipe requires prepared polenta, I'm sure that it would indicate prepared polenta. It would be extremely difficult to combine the prepared stuff with flour and the other dry ingredients and then try to mix in the rest of the components. It is definitely dry polenta that is needed.

                      2. blue room Dec 17, 2006 12:32 PM

                        Produce Addict, this IS confusing. I count 8 opinions for the dry stuff, 3 for the wet (including mine), and 1 abstaining. Please let us know the outcome!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: blue room
                          birddog Dec 17, 2006 04:09 PM

                          Jamie Oliver has a recipe for Orange Polenta cookies (he calls Bicuits) that he serves with Chocolate Pots. I ran into the same question with his recipe, and I've tried it both ways. Dry polenta or yellow grits worked best. They turn out to be "Nilla wafer" sized cookies with a great crunch. They're attractive, tasty, and a nice complement to the decadent chocolate pots (that he serves in little espresso cups). A big hit.

                          1. re: birddog
                            blue room Dec 17, 2006 06:16 PM

                            birddog, it's good to see you have tried it both ways, and the dry way worked best. In (1)Google, (2)the food "encyclopedia" at the Food Network, and (3)my "encarta" computer dictionary, polenta is a cooked, moist mixture. So there is confusion, but you have practical knowledge!

                        2. m
                          MakingSense Dec 17, 2006 05:57 PM

                          Do you have Hazan's Essentials? She has an informative section on polenta - the milled corn - and she even mentions the instant variety. She doesn't mention the pre-cooked stuff in the tube. Dry polenta is used as an ingredient in many Italian recipes.
                          There are yellow and white polentas with grains of different sizes. In a pinch you could use American grits if you bear in mind that they will perform differently depending on the recipe, the amount of moisture, the type of grits, etc.

                          1. p
                            Produce Addict Dec 18, 2006 12:53 PM

                            I used dry coarse ground cornmeal (indian head brand) -- turned out great! Thanks to everyone for their help!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Produce Addict
                              ChiliDude Dec 18, 2006 06:03 PM

                              Indian Head cornmeal is the brand that I use. A 2-pound bag costs less than a dollar. I once 7-ounces of cornmeal in a fancy box labelled 'polenta' priced $2.67. My first thought was 'What a ripoff.'

                              1. re: ChiliDude
                                ChiliDude Dec 18, 2006 06:07 PM

                                The 3rd sentence is missing the word 'saw' after the word 'once.' Mea culpa!

                                1. re: ChiliDude
                                  MakingSense Dec 18, 2006 07:18 PM

                                  After first thinking "What a ripoff" you might have wondered if there wasn't something to learn about a different type of cornmeal from a different variety of corn. Don't always assume you know everything.
                                  After all, a cook who appreciates the fine differences among chilis could certainly understand the real distinctions that Italians would make in fine polenta.
                                  I can assure you polenta is more than the microwaved cornmeal mush you make, just as "real" chili doesn't come from a can, isn't made with pre-packaged "chili powder," and isn't made with beans or spaghetti in the style of Cincinnati.
                                  Price isn't everything. Otherwise we could all drink $5 wine.

                              2. Robert Lauriston Dec 18, 2006 07:44 PM

                                I've seen lots of recipes for cookies and cakes calling for polenta, and they mean the dry stuff.

                                You can substitute corn meal for polenta but the texture and flavor won't be quite the same.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                  blue room Dec 18, 2006 10:07 PM

                                  I emailed the L.A. Times food section, someone named "Betty" said the dry stuff IS what this particular recipe needs. Her exact words were "corn meal" though..
                                  But this still doesn't explain why the definition for "polenta" is a moist cooked mixture! Recipes should be written for the lowest common denominator? Yes!

                                  1. re: blue room
                                    Robert Lauriston Dec 18, 2006 10:35 PM

                                    Polenta is like rice, same word for the uncooked product and the cooked product. A carefully written recipe will say something like, "2 cups polenta (coarse Italian cornmeal)."

                                2. oakjoan Dec 19, 2006 01:21 AM

                                  Polenta is great in cookies! Jamie Oliver has a wonderful recipe for them if you want me to post it.

                                  I also just finished making a fabulous cake from the Rose Bakery Cookbook (Breakfast, Lunch and Tea) made from polenta, almond meal and rice flour. The crunchiness is part of the charm of these recipes.

                                  Neither of the recipes specifies "uncooked" polenta or anything else. Jamie tells us to rub the dry ingreds. together (polenta, flour, etc.)

                                  1. blue room Dec 19, 2006 01:36 AM

                                    Jamie is English and that cookbook is from Canada (?)-- maybe its more common there to use "polenta" to mean the uncooked grain.
                                    I'd be interested to hear more about the cake oakjoan has made, I happen to have rice flour and almond meal on hand.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: blue room
                                      Robert Lauriston Dec 19, 2006 02:39 AM

                                      It's common for coarse Italian / Italian-style corn meal to be called "polenta" in the U.S. It helps consumers not confuse it with American corn meal or grits.


                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                        Zeldog Dec 19, 2006 10:04 PM

                                        And for ya'll non-southerners, "grits" can mean the dry meal or the finished product. But that's another post.

                                        1. re: Zeldog
                                          Robert Lauriston Dec 20, 2006 08:24 PM

                                          In fact, strictly speaking, the best English label for farina per polenta is corn grits. Bob's Red Mill label's theirs "Corn Grits - Polenta."

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