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Italian Polenta with Mushrooms and Taleggio Recipe

Italian polenta, if done well, can be a magical dish despite its simple flavors. With our easy polenta recipe, we show you how to elevate the dish from mere cornmeal mush to a dinner party show stopper.

Polenta with mushrooms and cheese with a large spoon for eating

Who doesn’t love creamy polenta?

It’s a dish cooked in many countries in Europe in many different ways. We’ve eaten polenta cooked with nettles in the Italian Alps, with red wine and prosciutto in Ljubljana and grilled with tuna in Venice. We’ve even eaten polenta (called mamaliga) served with roast pork in Bucharest.

Polenta with red wine and prosciutto in Ljubljana Slovenia
Polenta is a staple of many countries in Central Southern Europe. This plate of polenta we ate in Ljubljana, Slovenia was served with local prosciutto cooked in red wine.

Can we say that all of those versions of polenta were outstanding? Not really since polenta can be a one note dish. Sure, adding butter and a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano to polenta tastes great, but a daily diet of polenta can empty your palate of all excitement. Or so we thought.

Overhead of Polenta Taragna at PolentOne in Bergamo Italy
In Lombardi, Italians have found many ways to cook and serve polenta. At PolentOne, in Bergamo, Polenta Taragna is made with buckwheat, mixed with Taleggio and topped with porcini mushrooms.

Then we traveled to Bergamo where we discovered that polenta can not only be comforting but also rich and exciting. We tasted creamy polenta finished in butter as well as also varieties that were served with salumi and mixed with all kinds of cheeses. We also tasted cheesy Polenta Taragna – a fun, rich version of the cooked cornmeal and buckwheat flour finished with locally-produced Taleggio cheese.

That rich, stretchy version of polenta was terrific. Washed-rind, soft Taleggio cheese enhanced the flavors of the polenta with its unique funk while proteins from the cow’s milk cheese added a fun stretch to the finished dish. We loved the nuttiness that the buckwheat brought to the polenta, but we wondered if it would be possible to make a similar dish without buckwheat.

Overhead of polenta with taleggio cheese and mushrooms on a red grey and white background
A bowl of polenta with mushrooms add sa comforting touch to any dinner. It can even be eaten on its own.

Once we got home, we put our new love for Polenta Taragna to the test and created an easy polenta recipe inspired by the Bergamo food favorite. We discovered that it’s more than possible to make Italian-style polenta with cornmeal and a few other key ingredients.

In fact, it’s relatively easy to recreate and eat Italian-style polenta at home. Hooray!

What is Polenta?

Polenta and cheese with sauteed mushrooms on top
Polenta provides an excellent platform for a number of meats and cooked vegetables. We topped this polenta with sautéed mushrooms.

Put simply, polenta is coarsely ground cornmeal cooked with liquid to create a digestible, comforting mash. Today, Italians use yellow, or sometimes white, cornmeal but, in reality, cooks in the boot have been making polenta for millennia with grains “like farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt, and chickpeas” according to Wikipedia.

Polenta with Mushroom and Taleggio on a silver platter
Cooking delicious polenta at home doesn’t have to be a laborious project.

Many say that polenta takes a long time to cook but Cooks Illustrated created a recipe awhile back where the process was done in about 40 minutes in just water with butter and parmesan to finish. Those crafty culinarians proved that home cooks with a low fire, a four-to-one ratio of cornmeal to water and constant mixing can produce polenta that’s both creamy and bouncy.

The best part about polenta? It’s a wonderful accompaniment for stews, salamis and vegetables. In our case, we like adding earthy sautéed mushrooms to complete the comforting dish.

Italian Polenta Ingredients

Mise en Place for Polenta with Mushrooms
Our Italian polenta recipe requires just nine simple ingredients: butter, coarse ground yellow cornmeal, mushrooms, onions, parmesan cheese, salt, Taleggio cheese, water and white wine. Garnishes like parsley are optional.

Our Italian polenta recipe has two steps – sautéing the mushrooms and cooking the polenta. However its ingredients are simple to assemble:

  • Butter
  • Coarse Ground Yellow Cornmeal
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt
  • Taleggio Cheese
  • Water
  • White wine
  • Flat Leaf Parsley (optional)

Cornmeal

Raw polenta in a one cup measuring cup
We use a 4:1 ratio of water to polenta when we make polenta at home.

You’ll want to use coarse ground yellow cornmeal for this Italian polenta recipe.

Merchants have marketed expensive polenta products, typically from Italy, aimed at consumers that want the ‘best of everything’ when they cook at home. Don’t fall into their trap!

We’ve found that locally-made coarse ground yellow cornmeal makes polenta at the same level of quality as Italian cornmeal which can cost up to four times more money. If you can find coarse ground white cornmeal, go for it. That style of polenta is popular in Venice.

Pro Tip
Be careful not to use fine cornmeal. The result will be a clumpy polenta mess instead of a creamy polenta dream.

Water

Water in a measuring cup
While you could use chicken stock to cook your polenta, we use water in this Italian polenta recipe.

Our recipe calls for a four-to- one ratio of water to cornmeal. We use tap water when we make this recipe at home.

Pro Tip
It’s important to bring the water to a boil and then create a whirlpool as you slowly sprinkle in the polenta. If your water begins to boil too hard, turn down the heat on the stove.

Mushrooms

Raw trumpet and oyster mushrooms in a wide white bowl
We found these cultivated white trumpet and oyster mushrooms at a gourmet grocery store. They looked and tasted great. However, everyday white button mushrooms work in this recipe too.

We recommend using the best mushrooms you can find.

In an ideal world, you would use fresh wild mushrooms like porcinis, chanterelles or morels in this recipe. However, we get that cultivated varieties like white trumpet and oyster mushrooms are easier to source. The good news is that simpler mushrooms won’t severely impact the flavor of the dish.

The recipe will still taste great if you decide to use more common mushroom varieties like white button or cremini. You’ll want to stay away from fresh shiitakes unless you love a super chewy mushroom texture.

Pro Tip
Cut the mushrooms a little thick – between a half and quarter inch. You’ll begin with what seems like a lot of mushrooms but the tasty fungus will cook down and reduce drastically in size regardless of the variety you end up using.

Taleggio Cheese

Chunk of Taleggio cheese from italy
Taleggio cheese adds a magic touch in our polenta. Be sure to remove the sandy rind from the cheese before cooking.

Taleggio cheese is a special washed rind product from Val Taleggio in Italy’s Lombardi region just north of Bergamo. Even though the cheese carries a decent fragrance (some would say odor), its flavors are relatively mild. However, this cheese carries just enough distinct flavor and stretchiness to make a luxurious impact on your polenta.

Taleggio is made from pasteurized and raw milk (depending on the producer and country of sale). Due to the cheese’s mild flavor, the type of milk should not matter. In other words, a pasteurized version of Taleggio cheese will work just fine in this recipe.

Pro Tip
It’s important to add the Taleggio cheese after you’ve taken the polenta off the heat or the cheese will congeal. Also, make sure you cut the sandy rind off the Taleggio before dicing the cheese.

Butter

Butter in a red prep bowl
Everything’s better with butter including polenta.

A tablespoon of better adds extra richness and flavor. The key is to add the butter off the heat.

Parmigiano

Wedge of Grana-Padano in an orange prep bowl
We grated this Grana-Padano for our polenta. You can also use Parmigiano-Reggiano or ungrated American parmesan cheese.

You can use either Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano in this recipe. That being said, you can use alternatively use ungrated American-made parmesan in a pinch.

These cheeses don’t just provide additional creaminess. They also provide a subtle undertone of flavor.

Pro Tip
You can use pre grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana-Padano but stay away from any pre-grated American versions of these cheeses.

Onions

Onions in a silver steel bowl
Chopped onions add dimension to our mushroom sauté.

You could hypothetically sauté the mushrooms alone, but we like to add half of a chopped medium onion to the sauté to round out the overall flavor.

White Wine

White Wine Bottle and Glass at Botica Saloia in Sintra7
White wine is an essential ingredient for sautéing mushrooms.

Nothing punches up the flavor of sautéed mushrooms better than white wine. Wine also deglazes the bottom of the pan, essentially removing all the caramelized onion goodness that happens during a high heat sauté.

Salt

Salt in an orange bowl on a wood board
We used fine table salt to season our polenta. You can use any salt you choose as long as you salt to taste.

We add salt to both the mushroom sauté and the polenta for flavor.

If you don’t add salt to the polenta, your cooked cornmeal will taste flat.

How to Make Italian Polenta

Stirring polenta in a sauce pan
Making polenta at home requires constant stirring.

The Italians have perfected the art of cooking polenta but the rest of us can make great polenta too.

We’ve found that cooking polenta over a low fire for 30 minutes softens the cornmeal enough to produce a creamy product. It’s important to create a whirlpool with the boiling water and add the polenta in a fine stream. Once the polenta thickens up, we turn the flame down to its lowest setting and stir frequently.

We like to to sauté our mushrooms while the polenta is cooking. They typically take about 10 to 15 minutes to sauté. Another option is to sauté the mushrooms before cooking the polenta. If you choose that route, you’ll want to place the cooked mushrooms in a warm oven while you cook the polenta.

Sautéeing the Mushrooms

Mushrooms in a saute pan
Raw mushrooms lose their liquid and shrink they sauté.

Begin by heating up a thick bottomed, stainless steel pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and , after it begins to shimmer, cook the onions until they’re just translucent.

We use a 12-inch stainless steel All-Clad pan. It’s a kitchen staple. You can buy one from Amazon if you don’t have the right size pan or you want an upgrade.

Diced Onions sauteeing in a stainless steel pan
We cook the onion in olive oil until just opaque before adding the mushrooms. You’ll want to do the same.

Add mushrooms and a little bit of salt.

Mushrooms added to a saute pan
Raw mushrooms enter the sauté pan.

Cook the mushrooms until they’ve given up their liquid and begin to brown.

Sauteed mushrooms forming a brown fond in a stainless steel pan
The sauté is more flavorful when the mushrooms create brown bits on the bottom of a stainless steel pan.

Once the mushrooms have browned and formed a fond at the bottom the pan, the next step is to add white wine.

Pour in the white wine and scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.

White wine added to a mushroom saute
Deglazing the mushroom sauté with white wine is steamy fun. Make sure you scrape off all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Cook the mushrooms until most of the liquid is gone from the pan.

Pro Tip
Keep the mushrooms in a warm oven until the polenta is ready If you’re not immediately adding the mushrooms to the finished polenta. You can also pre-cook the mushrooms, place them in the refrigerator and warm them in a pan with a couple tablespoons of water for about 5 minutes.

Cooking the Polenta

Stirring polenta in a sauce pan
Once you cook the polenta, it’s almost time to eat the polenta.

Begin by boiling water in a 3 to 4 quart saucepan over high heat. When the water boils, pour the polenta into the water in a thin stream.

Once the polenta separates from the sides of the pan, turn the fire down to the lowest setting. Cover the pan and cook, stirring frequently.

We like to use a stainless steel All-Clad saucepan. However, you may want to use a non-stick saucepan instead to prevent the polenta from sticking to the bottom.

After approximately 30 minutes, the polenta will be cooked. Take the pan with the polenta off the burner and place it on a cool part of the stove.

Mix in the butter and the Parmigiano.

Once the butter and the Parmigiano are incorporated, mix in small chunks of Taleggio cheese.

Adding taleggio cheese to finished polenta in a saucepan
Adding cubes of Taleggio cheese is the final step toward creamy, stretchy polenta bliss.

Pour the creamy polenta into a wide bowl.

Polenta and cheese with sauteed mushrooms on top
Polenta topped with mushrooms is a gorgeous, savory dream of a dish.

Top with parsley and serve with white wine.

Italian Polenta FAQs

What is Italian polenta?

Polenta is coarsely ground cornmeal cooked with liquid to create a digestible, comforting mash. It’s a staple of Northern Italian cuisine.

What do Italians use polenta for?

Italians typically eat polenta as a side dish served with stews and other main dishes.

Is Italian polenta healthy?

Yes. Polenta is gluten free and is healthy when eaten in moderation.

What does Italian polenta taste like?

Polenta tastes like grits. (They may even be the same thing but don’t tell that to any Southern Americans or Northern Italians!)

What’s the best cheese to use when making Italian polenta?

Taleggio and Parmigiana are two great Italian cheeses to add to polenta.

Is Taleggio cheese difficult to find?

No. You should be able to find imported Taleggio cheese near or in any major US city. You can also order it by mail though companies like Murray’s.

Is 30 minutes enough time to cook Italian polenta?

Yes. However, you’ll want to make sure that you stir the polenta frequently and cover the pan.

What kind of pan is best for sautéeing mushrooms?

To develop the best fond (brown bits) on the bottom of the pan, you’ll want to use a stainless steel pan though you can also use a nonstick pan.

Italian Polenta with Mushrooms and Tallegio Recipe

Full plate close up of polenta with taleggio cheese and mushrooms

Italian Polenta with Mushrooms and Taleggio

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Polenta finished with a combination of Parmigiano, butter and Taleggio cheese is a rich, luxurious dish that's ideal for special occasions. Topping the polenta with sautéed mushrooms only adds to the polenta party.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coarse ground yellow cornmeal
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 1/2 ounces Taleggio cheese, rind removed, diced in one inch pieces
  • 1 pound assorted mushrooms
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • Salt to taste
  • Sprigs of Italian flat leaf parsley or other herb for garnish

Instructions

  1. Boil water in a 4 quart saucepan
  2. When water boils, make a whirlpool around the center of a pan with a wooden spoon
  3. Keep the water spinning and add the polenta in a light stream. Stir the polenta until it has absorbed all the liquid in the pan and starts to separate from the sides. Cover the pot and turn the fire down to low.
  4. Cook the polenta for 30 minutes on the lowest fire on the stove, frequently stirring aggressively on the bottom of the pot.
  5. While the polenta cooks, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions first and cook them until they're just translucent. Add the mushrooms and a dash of salt. Cook the mushrooms until they've lost all their liquid and begin to brown. A fond should begin to form on the bottom of the pan.
  6. Add the wine, scraping off all the brown bits. Cook the mushrooms until just a little liquid is left in the pan. Keep the mushrooms warm either in a warm oven or, if you're time it right, on the stove.
  7. After 30 minutes, the polenta should be soft and uniform (not grainy). Remove the polenta from the heat and add the butter and Parmigiano cheese until fully incorporated.
  8. After adding the butter and Parmigiano cheese, add the Taleggio cheese by spreading the pieces evenly around the polenta. Stir until the Taleggio chunks are well incorporated and the polenta is bouncy and slightly stretchy.
  9. Garnish with your favorite herb and serve in a flat bowl.

Notes

  • You can use any fresh mushrooms except shitakes. Wild mushrooms like porcinis, chanterelles or morels work especially well if you can find them.
  • Be sure to take the polenta completely off the heat before mixing the cheese and butter.
  • This recipe can be easily doubled.

Hungry for More Italian Food?

Check out our our tasty recipes for Linguine Carbonara, Pasta Genovese and Spaghetti allla Bottarga.

About the Authors

About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Disclosure

We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

Original Publication Date: December 4, 2022

Robin

Tuesday 6th of December 2022

Your recipe ingredients are missing the onion and Amy!!

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Tuesday 6th of December 2022

Corrected. Thank you.

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