An Italian staple, polenta is ground corn that’s cooked into a creamy porridge; it can also be cooled to form firm polenta cakes suitable for baking, frying, or grilling. Look for grainy raw polenta in bulk bins and prepackaged; it’s coarser than the finely ground cornmeal used in cornbread.
Polenta makes a tasty, gluten-free breakfast. Bring 2 cups water to a boil, then add 1/2 cup medium-grain polenta in a thin, steady stream, whisking as you pour. (Double the amounts if you want leftover polenta.) Reduce heat to low and simmer polenta, whisking often, until thick, scraping pan sides with a wooden spoon as needed. Stir in raisins, chopped almonds, and nutmeg, plus milk or cream. Or stir in a little butter, then pour into a wide bowl and top with sautéed spinach and a poached egg.
Serve soft and loose polenta with juicy stews and braised meats; it deliciously soaks up flavor. Pour leftover polenta into a square pan, cover, and refrigerate; when cool, cut into squares. Layer pieces in a baking dish with marinara and grated cheese; bake until bubbly. Or pan-fry squares and top with sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, and olives. You’ll also find polenta preformed and sold in tubes, usually in the pasta aisle; just remove the covering, slice crosswise into disks, and use as desired.