Soft Polenta For Dinner, Fried Polenta Cakes for Bento

Preconceptions can limit you more than you can imagine. I'd always thought that polenta needed to be piping hot to be really good, but it's actually pretty good cold. Anything good cold, of course, can go into a bento box.


Firm polenta cakes, briefly fried until golden on the outside, are really nice as a carb in a bento. If you have some tomato sauce also it makes a very nice accompaniment. Below is my basic polenta recipe (I use some garlic in there to boost the flavor), but please use your own polenta recipe.

Recipe: Basic polenta for soft polenta or firm polenta cakes


This is my recipe for basic polenta. Soft polenta can be served for dinner, and firm polenta cakes for lunch or bento the next day. It's surprisingly good cold, and even better if you can heat it up briefly.

Prep time: 5 min :: Cook time: 30-40 min (for the base polenta) :: Total time: 35-40 minutes min (plus 5-10 min to fry the polenta cakes)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


  • 1 US cup (approx. 240cc), yellow cornmeal or polenta, medium grind preferred by fine grind is ok
  • 4 US cups (960cc), water
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 US cup (approximate), grated Parmesan or other sharp salty cheese
  • 1 teaspoon, salt plus more if needed
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons, unsalted butter (for soft polenta only)
  • 1/2 US cup (120ml), milk or cream (for solft polenta only)
  • additional grated Parmesan cheese, to taste, optional for polenta cakes
  • olive oil , for frying polenta cakes


  1. Put the water and cornmeal together in a pan and stir together. Bring up to a boil while stirring with a whisk, making sure to mash up any lumps that form. (Cooking them both together from water seems to form less lumps.) Add the grated garlic and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  2. When it comes to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer. Keep cooking until the grains are cooked - if you taste a bit it should not be at all gritty, but smooth and soft. This takes around 10 minutes if you're using fine grind cornmeal, and 20 minutes or so if you're using medium grind. I like it with a bit of texture so I like the medium.
  3. Stir in the cheese, and add pepper and more salt if needed to taste.
  4. To serve as __soft polenta__ for dinner, add the cream or milk and stir until blented. Add the butter and stir in. Serve immediately, optionally with a pat of butter on top of each portion and even more cheese. Great on its own or as a side dish to accompany a roast. It's also good with a pasta sauce like bolognese or a tomato sauce, even pesto.
  5. To make __polenta cakes__ the next day, pour the polenta (before you put the cream or milk and butter in) into a flat container or onto a plate to a bit less than 1 cm / 1/3 inch thickness. . Let cool - it will become firm at room temperature. You can store this in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Cut into pieces, and fry in a little oil or butter on both sides until golden brown. Optionally sprinkle on top with more Parmesan cheese if as you fry the second side. Serve hot, or let cool and pack into a bento box, together with some tomato sauce or even (gasp) ketchup. Great as a carb with a salad bento for example.
(Below is just for search engines.)

By Makiko Itoh

Published: April 09, 2013

Type: carbohydrate, vegetarian, not Japanese


The "time required" that this is categorized under (5-10 minutes) is the time you need to make the polenta cakes from premade polenta. The actual cooking time of the polenta is around 30-40 minutes, depending on the fineness of the cornmeal/polenta meal you use. 'Instant' polenta meal cooks up very fast so if you're in a big hurry you may try that.

To vary the flavor of the fried polenta cakes, try stirring in some cubed cheese, chopped green onion, chopped and rehydrated dried tomato, and so on before it firms up. For omnivores, some chopped ham or crumbled and cooked sausage make nice additions too.

Last modified: 
11 Jun 2019 - 06:18

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