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Bill Buford's Slo-Mo Polenta

According to Bill Buford’s account in Heat, my favorite food memoir, polenta has been cooked all wrong--too little water, too short a cooking time and too much stirring.  

After stints at restaurants here in the U.S. and in Italy, his suggested method of very slow cooking begins with a much higher ratio of water to grains, a day when you are planning to nest, low heat and infrequent stirring. 

Serves 10 as an appetizer, 6 as a main dish.


  • 6 cups water to start.  You will continue to add water a bit at a time until it can no longer be absorbed.
  • 1.5 cups coarse polenta
  • 1 or more Tbs. kosher salt to taste
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • Grated parmesan or pecorino cheese to taste; additional grated cheese as a topping


  • Bring the water to a simmer.  Add the salt. 
  • Slowly add the polenta in a steady stream into the pot and whisk as you add it. Whisk for a couple of minutes to avoid lumps.
  • Keep polenta at a low simmer.
  • Switch to a rubber spatula and give the polenta a good stir every now and then. When it absorbs all the water, add more water. Continue to stir now and then. Add a bit more water. After about an hour or two, the polenta will be done. The granules will have become creamy and soft. It is a completely different texture than you have ever experienced.
  • Take the polenta off the heat, and add the butter and parmesan.

Polenta is one of the most versatile of dishes. You can pour it into a heat-proof casserole dish and let it cool. It can then be cut into squares and fried in olive oil.  Top with pesto or marinara sauce.

Or you can pour the polenta into a casserole dish and top with more parmesan cheese and fried mushrooms.  Heat in a 350-degree oven until the cheese is melted.  Or it works as a breakfast cereal.  It is lovely with a bit of maple syrup and cream