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Cornmeal (Recipe: Polenta, squash and cheese loaf) {vegetarian, gluten-free}


Do what I say, not what I do.

When I say store your stone-ground, super-nutritious, little-flecks-of-goodness cornmeal in the refrigerator, please do it.

If you don't, then please don't make polenta when one of the finest chefs in town is coming to your house for dinner, because you will have to throw out the whole beautiful loaf when you taste it (thank goodness you taste!) and discover that the cornmeal went a bit off as it sat in your cupboard, instead of in the fridge where it belonged.

Cornmeal comes in three textures -- fine, medium, and coarse -- and it's ground in one of two ways. Stone-ground meal retains some of the hull and germ of the corn. Because of the oil in the germ, stone-ground cornmeal is more nutritious and more flavorful but does not keep for more than a few months, and must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

Steel-ground cornmeal (often labeled "enriched and degerminated", like the Quaker cornmeal that comes in the canister) has had the husk and germ, and thus the oil, of the corn kernel almost completely removed. It can keep up to a year, if stored in an airtight container at room temperature, but will be happier in the refrigerator or freezer.


Depending on the type of corn used, cornmeal can be one of four colors. If you live in Rhode Island, it's likely to be white, used primarily for jonnycakes. In the Southwest, blue or red cornmeal is popular for tortillas and chips. Most everywhere else, cornmeal comes in the familiar yellow, used for polenta (in fact, it's often called "polenta," just as arborio rice is often called "risotto"), Indian pudding, cakes, tarts and muffins.

In Navajo tradition, white cornmeal symbolizes the male and yellow the female. The two meals are combined into a corn pudding and put into a wedding basket before the ceremony. The couple shares the pudding during the ceremony to symbolize their marriage.

In Rhode Island, we'd probably never combine the two, but from now on, at least in my pantry, we're definitely storing them side-by-side in the fridge.

Polenta, squash and cheese loaf

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates, by The Moosewood Collective. For a loaf, the aim is a firm but pourable polenta. Finely ground cornmeal will cook in just a few minutes. Most medium-grind, fairly dark yellow cornmeals will take about 20 minutes to cook.  Stone-ground and very coarse cornmeals can take up to 45 minutes. Serves 8.


2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large diced onion
2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 cups grated butternut squash (1 small squash)
2 Tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp ground black pepper, or more to taste
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese


In a covered pot, bring water, stock and salt to a boil. Generously oil a loaf pan, or coat with cooking spray.

While the water heats, warm the olive oil in a heavy skillet on low heat. Cook the onions for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are caramelized. Stir the squash, parsley, and pepper into the onions and cook for 3-4 minutes. If the vegetables begin to stick, add a tiny bit of water. Cover and remove from heat.

When the water boils, gradually pour in the cornmeal while stirring vigorously with a wire whisk. Reduce the heat until the thickening cornmeal simmers gently. Cook, stirring frequently, until the polenta is thick and tastes done (not raw), about 5 minutes.

When the polenta is ready, stir in the sautéed vegetables. Add the cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Pour the polenta into the prepared loaf pan and set it aside to cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, until firm.

One hour before serving, preheat the oven to 400°F. Invert the cooked polenta loaf onto an ovenproof platter or large rimmed baking pan and bake for about 30 minutes, or until hot. Surround it with a beautiful stew, or serve on its own, cut into wedges.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Baked polenta with braised wild mushrooms
Lemon-currant biscotti
Cheese-y cornmeal cakes
Lemon-thyme cornmeal cookies

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There have been times Moosewood has been a go to book and I haven't looked at it lately. Why do we do that? I have to change that.
Ah, I have gotten lax about keeping the corn meal in the fridge. Wouldn't it be a dream to have a pantry fridge?
I think I must make some polenta with the butternut waiting for me at home.

What a creative take on polenta!

That looks wonderful. Another reason to store cornmeal in the fridge (except in the winter, when I keep it on a cold pantry) is that it's an invitation to those nasty little pantry moths, which then make themselves at home in other containers. I found that out to my sorrow a couple of summers ago.

Great post. I haven't ever made polenta, and have only eaten it a few times. This looks delicious!

This looks like the perfect dinner for this day of non-stop snow. All ingredients on hand waiting for perfection. I'll look in a new "Peppers" cookbook for a sauce on the hot side for the final tweak. A suggestion for the right cut of polenta: Bob's Red Mill Polenta. I try to keep all whole grain flours in refrigerator or freezer: the best nutrition is in the germ, which is where the oils are that go rancid (one reason for the popularity of white flours).

Ooops! I store mine in the pantry. But I go through it so quickly, I don't think it has time to go bad.

This looks good and I hate when stuff in the pantry goes bad! Makes me feel like a waster!

Ah, the infamous chef dinner! I love polenta. I had no idea how easy it was until I finally tried it. And, the idea of polenta, cheese and vegetable has got my appetite going already! I've had some fun grilling polenta and topping it with a mushroom ragout.

I promised my mom I would make polenta this weekend when I'm home for the holiday - I will definitely be bringing this recipe along to try.

MyKitchen, I love the idea of a pantry fridge, especially one with glass doors so I could see exactly what's in there. Another thing to add to my wish list....

Gretchen, thank you.

Jean, been there, had those pantry critters, so yes, I should know better (and usually I do!).

Kalyn, polenta is a wonderful counterpoint to stews of all kinds. I love to serve this with a black bean and sweet potato stew -- can you picture the colors? Beautiful, and delicious.

Susan, Bob's is one of my favorite brands, and our local discount store sells the entire line of Bob's products.

Pam, as long as you use it quickly, and especially if the pantry is cool and dry, it should be fine.

Noble Pig, I hate that, too. But I knew I had to throw out the polenta loaf I made last week. I really didn't like wasting the squash and cheese, though.

TW, what I love about polenta is that it can be served soft or firm. One of my favorite Boston restaurants had polenta with wild mushroom ragout on their first menu, and 20 years later, they still serve it, because whenever they try to take it off the menu, customers complain. It's that good.

Maris, I think you'll like this. It's easy and dramatic. You can mold it into a dome shape in a glass bowl, or use a bread pan, or make it in a square cake pan.

A good way to sneak in squash. Yum.

It is UNCANNY! I just bought some corn meal a few weeks back thinking - "I have never made Polenta I think I will try it!" and now I will have the confidence to try it.
I LOVE this blog!

We don't seem to have the corn product selection that the States do. Usually all you can find here is machine milled fine yellow cornmeal.
I have been thinking about picking up a couple of the Moosewood cookbook but have heard that some are good and others not so much. Do you have any recommendations re which ones are winners?

Peabody, it is -- you really don't get the texture of squash at all.

Carol, I'm so glad we're on the same wave length -- polenta for everyone!!

Natashya, I really think the original Moosewood cookbook is the best, and it was reissued just a couple of years ago with good updates. I have a few Moosewood books, but the one I go back to over and over again is the original.

I hate when stuff goes rancid in the pantry, and you find out when it's too late to stop and get a new box from the store.

Same thing goes for couscous and steel cut oats.

Merry Christmas to all!

Down here in Florida we must have an extra refrigerator just for grains and hurricane emergency foods. Mother nature can really do a number on you if you are not prepared.
Enjoyed the polenta replies, when I have some leftover polenta that I cooked on the stove in water with Parmesan cheese and butter, salt. We like it chilled cut into squares, breaded with a little flour and sauteed in butter. It develops a great cheese flavor and thin crunchy crust. It's great as a side dish instead of potatoes or rice. In fact good with anything. Thought I'd pass this hint on to anyone who may not have tried it.

Nate, same here -- I hate to waste, and I hate to get caught with my pantry "down"!

Geri, polenta with a crunchy outside and cheesy inside sounds so delicious. And you can cut it into different shapes to really dress up a meal. Thanks for sharing your tips.

one of the very few things my hubby will eat over and over is cornmeal. I'm always on the outlook for new ways to create with it.
hope you had a nice holiday.

That looks nice and moist and so good!

Lydia, I have to keep all my flours in the freezer. We live in a subtropical area where even the shortening (yes I use it just a little) goes bad on the shelf!

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