Looking for healthy new recipes? Consider Polenta, a hulled and crushed grain that has been a staple in Italy for centuries. Like its American cousin, grits, polenta is a “mush” and must simmer in water in order to cook. The general rule of thumb is one part polenta to four parts liquid – anything from water to chicken or vegetable stock to heavy cream and butter. This can add up to quite a few calories, however there are also many healthy recipes for polenta.  

Traditionally, cooks prepare polenta on the stovetop. Add 1 1/3 c. polenta to six cups of water and a teaspoon of salt in a large saucepan. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. After about five minutes the mixture will start to thicken. Partially cover the pan, reduce the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. The polenta will be thick and creamy and, with no added cream, quite a healthy recipe at 74 calories per serving.

For those who don’t have an hour to cook you can buy polenta ready-made in a tube or even make it in the microwave. For an individual bowl of polenta that makes a great breakfast, take 1 cup of water, ¼ cup of polenta, and a pinch of salt. (Optional – add 1 tsp of olive oil or a splash of milk.) Mix all ingredients in a bowl, put the mixture in the microwave uncovered for 5 minutes on high. After about 2 ½ minutes, give it a stir – you can also add a splash of milk before popping it back into the microwave for the last 2 ½ minutes of cooking. The polenta will continue to thicken as it cools. Add brown sugar, nuts or even top it with a poached egg for a great healthy breakfast at about 200 calories.

Other breakfast options include a cheesy polenta and egg casserole. First cook the polenta, either on the stove or in the microwave. Then cook six ounces turkey sausage until lightly browned. Drain, cool, then slice it up. Stir ½ cup shredded Fontina or mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano into the prepared polenta. Spread the polenta into a 9×13 pan treated with cooking spray. Using a spoon, make six two inch indentations in the polenta. Break eggs one at a time into a custard cup and slip one into each indentation. Cover with the cooked sausage, sprinkle with another ¼ cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Each serving is 295 calories and 17 grams of fat. Total servings = 6.  Serve with a side of roasted asparagus and grape tomatoes for a wonderful healthy brunch.

For dinner, polenta’s possibilities are endless. Grilled Polenta with Shrimp and Escarole is one healthy recipe option. Start with prepared polenta – the tube may be easiest, because you can slice it. Grill it until hot and slightly charred. Add 1 T olive oil in a frying pan, then 4 cloves of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, 2 14 ounce cans of no-salt diced tomatoes, drained, and ½ teaspoon oregano. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir in shrimp, add escarole and cook until wilted. Divide the sauce among four bowls, top with polenta, sprinkle with olives, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately. Each serving yields 293 calories and 8 grams of fat.

There are a number of healthy recipes for polenta. Try some of these out and share them with your friends and family for a delicious new addition to your weekday meal rotation.

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