Polenta: versatile, easy and gluten free

My dearest friend lives on the other side of the country and it sucks. When we are able to get together, we dream about life as neighbors, but of course I picture being able to walk down the hall of an apartment building in New York while she thinks about side by side homes in southern California. Sigh. 

lunch with polenta leftovers

I love her daughter like she was my own, and after she was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, I went on a hunt for approachable gluten free recipes to add to their family rotation (like this one or this one with gluten free pasta or these granola bars). Thankfully, there's a lot out there nowadays for gluten free families (we recently also launched a new gluten free bundle on the LaLa Lunchbox app) and I'm sure they'll find their way but something that immediately came to mind was polenta.

polenta ingredients

Polenta is basically a blank canvas that can take on any number of flavors and that versatility is under appreciated in my humble opinion. Cornmeal, the main squeeze of polenta, is great for a gluten free diet. It has iron, fiber and a bit of protein and while it's not a nutritional powerhouse, there's plenty to celebrate. Polenta is basically boiled cornmeal and when you add milk, butter and cheese to that, you've got something mighty tasty. You can make polenta for breakfast and serve with cinnamon and maple syrup. You can serve it with dinner and top with roasted vegetables, or sauteed greens with garlic. You can serve alongside meat or with a vegetarian meal. You can make fun shapes with it and it instantly becomes a kid-pleaser. It's terrific for lunchboxes too. Polenta is like the little engine that could! 

Here's how we do it around here:  

Ingredients for basic polenta (cheese optional)
1 cup goat milk (you can use any milk; my youngest is allergic to cow dairy so we use goat)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup gluten free corn grits
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional) 

1. Pour the milk and water into a sauce pan, add butter and salt and bring to a boil. 

milk, water and butter

2. Slowly add the cornmeal and whisk continuously. Reduce the heat to medium low. 

add the cornmeal slowly

3. Continue to stir until it becomes creamy. Reduce the heat to low and keep stirring for another several minutes until it becomes creamy. 

creamy polenta!

4. Once it starts to come together and the liquid has all been absorbed, you can be done! But if you want to add cheese, fold it in slowly and stir to combine. 

cheesy polenta

5. Once done, spread it out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and set aside for about 30 minutes to cool. 


6. Now comes the fun part! Get the kids involved, get your cookie cutters and make some shapes! 

polenta cakes

And there you have it. Five ingredients (6 with cheese), and 6 steps to immediate deliciousness! 

polenta cakes