Polenta in the Instant Pot is fabulously creamy, rich, and cheesy. Simple ingredients just stirred together, then start to finish, perfect in about 20 minutes, tops. But good polenta tastes so complex and satisfying, how can it be easy and is the recipe really foolproof? Well, since it is so quick and easy, testing and tweaking of the recipe was a breeze.
So I tested, tweaked, and tested again… of course in the interest of getting it right, but also because it takes mere minutes to make (because it tastes so good, we kept craving it over and over, too).
I make polenta in the Instant Pot with one recipe that ends up being able to finish as two different options. Above, I’ve made it into a Cacio e Pepe style (which simply means “cheese and pepper” in Italian, exactly what it is), and then …
I also finished it into a traditional style with marinara and pesto. Both were fabulous, and a favorite will just depend on your taste. Really, the polenta is so versatile that it works well with any sauce you’d put over pasta. We also love it with fresh zucchini and summer squash that’s simmered in marinara and the polenta can be a main dish or as a side dish in any menu.
Tips for the perfect Polenta in the Instant Pot:
Since testing the polenta in the instant pot so many times, I have a few things to say about how to get it just right-
- After the cooking time for the polenta is finished, you want to release the pressure immediately and then quickly stir, adding in the butter and cheese. If you let it sit too long, the polenta begins to firm up a lot and then can be lumpy.
- You can use Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, or a combination of both in the polenta but I suggest using shredded cheese rather than finely grated. If you use shredded cheese, your polenta will be even more creamy and the cheese will pass the glorious string cheese test. Plus, it takes a lot longer to grate the cheese than to shred it. If you don’t like your cheese to be melty (see bottom photo), then use grated cheese.
- As with pretty much any recipe, your meal will be as good as the quality of your ingredients. I recommend yellow corn grits/polenta– white polenta has a much milder flavor that’s more conducive to other recipes but not here. You want full flavor in your polenta to compliment the Romano or Parmesan cheese. And since cheese is the star of this dish, buy the best cheese that you can afford.
- If after dishing up the polenta, you still have some leftover in the pot, I recommend immediately pouring that into a shallow container for the refrigerator. The polenta that is left is going to become firm quickly so if you pour leftovers into a dish, when you want more you can just cut the polenta into cakes and reheat to enjoy.
Seriously good and fabulously easy, Polenta has just become a quick weeknight possibility, thanks to the Instant Pot or pressure cooker. However, it’s fancy and special enough to serve at a dinner party- the recipe can easily be doubled. With so many topping possibilities, you could have polenta often and so many different ways! Since polenta is used in tamale pie toppings as well as Southern Grits, you can easily change up the recipe to favor any cuisine. Top the polenta with taco meat, guacamole, greens and scallions (even change the cheese that gets melted into the polenta in the Instant Pot). For a southern flair, top it with grilled or roasted chicken and gravy.
Polenta is gluten-free but if you have celiac disease, be sure to search out certified gluten-free polenta as with regular corn grits, some slight cross-contamination with wheat does occur.
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Polenta doesn't have to take a long time to make creamy and perfectly. If you have a pressure cooker like an Instant Pot, you can have smooth, tasty, polenta in well under 30 minutes. This method is for polenta to be served with marinara, pesto, or with added black pepper in Cacio e Pepe style (Cacio e Pepe literally means "cheese and pepper").
- 1 cup polenta (not quick-cooking)
- 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more
- Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 cups water
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 ounces Pecorino and/or Parmesan, Shredded, plus more
- 3 tbsp Fresh basil leaves, chopped fine
- 1/4 cup Pesto homemade or store bought
- 1/2 cup Marinara sauce, homemade or store bought
Into an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, whisk the polenta, salt, pepper, and 4 cups of water. Press the Saute' button and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisk again, then seal the pressure cooker according to manufacturer's directions, with the dial turned to Sealing. Cook on high pressure for 9 minutes.
While polenta is cooking, make sure to have your butter and cheese(s) ready to add to the pot. When the timer goes off at the end of the 9 minutes, release the pressure manually and carefully open the lid immediately (In other words, don't get distracted and let the polenta sit too long 😉 ).
Using a whisk, large fork or wooden spoon, whisk the polenta until it's homogenous and creamy. Use your utensil to press any lumps against the side of the pan to smooth (there shouldn't be much, but will be a few).
Whisk the 3 tablespoons of butter into the polenta, then gradually add the cheese, whisking until melted. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
For Cacio e Pepe polenta, add A LOT more pepper to the mixture, stir and then serve in individual bowls with more pepper and shredded cheese on top.
For polenta to be served with marinara, pesto or both, you may skip the step to add more pepper, but I still add some. Scoop the polenta into individual bowls, add a swirl of marinara sauce and/or pesto sauce. Top with more shredded cheese and chopped fresh basil leaves.
- I recommend shredding your cheese rather than grating it. If you use shredded cheese, the polenta will have a nice melty, almost stretchy cheese consistency that only adds to the creaminess of the dish. (I usually recommend shredding your own cheese but have made it with pre-shredded Parmesan before with wonderful results as well.)
- To ensure a successful polenta, be ready to add the butter and cheese as soon as the pressure is released from the pot. If you let it sit too long, it will start to become too firm for a creamy polenta dish.
- If you have leftover polenta, spread it into the bottom of a small baking or storage dish and let it set up in the fridge. When reheating for serving, cut the polenta into squares and serve it as a polenta cake on top of sauce or with sauce poured over. Alternately, you could make your polenta ahead of time and do this to the entire pot of polenta as soon as the cheese and seasonings are added.