Salt and pepper
1 cup medium or fine cornmeal
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Parmesan for soft polenta, optional
1. For firm polenta use 4 cups water; for soft polenta use 5 cups water. Bring water to a boil in a medium-size heavy sauce pan over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Pour cornmeal slowly into water, stirring with a wire whisk or wooden spoon. Continue stirring as mixture thickens, two to three minutes.
2. Turn heat to low. Cook for at least 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. If polenta becomes quite thick, thin it with ½ cup water, stir well and continue cooking. Add up to 1 cup more water as necessary, to keep polenta soft enough to stir. Put a spoonful on a plate, let it cool, then taste. Grains should be swollen and taste cooked, not raw. Adjust salt and add pepper if you wish.
3. For firm polenta, lightly butter a baking sheet or shallow dish, approximately 8½ by 11 inches. Carefully pour polenta into pan. Using a spatula, spread polenta to a thickness of ¾ inch. Cool to room temperature to allow polenta to solidify. Cover and refrigerate for up to three days. For soft polenta, add 6 tablespoons butter to pot and stir well. Serve immediately or transfer to a double boiler set over low heat, cover and keep warm for up to an hour or so. (Or set the saucepan in a pot of barely simmering water.) Stir well before spooning into low soup bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired.
From David Tanis, The New York Times