The New Pantry Must-Have

When you think about pantry staples, rice, pasta, beans, and canned tomatoes probably come to mind. But if you haven't already, it's time to add polenta to the mix. Yes, you can buy the tubes, but I find their texture a bit waxy and off-putting. If you do prefer them for their convenience, go for it — just remember to slice it into rounds and to crisp it up in some olive oil and a little butter in a very hot pan before eating. You definitely want to give it a little crust.

Dry polenta, though, is far more versatile. A staple of northern Italian cuisine, it can be mounded in a bowl in place of mashed potatoes as a bed for meat- or vegetable-based stews. Or, scrape it into a baking dish, smooth the top, cool it until solid, then cut it into squares or sticks. Take the sticks and fry or grill them to give them some crunch, then douse them with (or dip them into) a little marinara. Feeling decadent? Shower the sticks with cheese and broil until golden and bubbly.

And if you're looking to add more leafy greens to your diet, I can think of no better way to serve them than atop a big bowl of buttery polenta. Sauté the greens with some garlic and onions until wilted, spoon them over a heaping scoop of polenta, and have at it. You'll be surprised not only at how good it will make you feel, but at how pretty it looks on your table.

Here are several polenta recipes to get you started.


Cheryl Sternman Rule is a widely-published food writer and the voice behind the blog 5 Second Rule. Read all of Cheryl's iVillage posts here.

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