Smoky Polenta with Aged Cheddar

Smokey Cheesy Polenta - Polenta with smoked paprika and aged cheddar

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Can you remember the first time you ate a particular dish?  One dish that I remember eating for the first time is “cheesy polenta“. It was about 40 years ago when Bobby I went out to eat at a semi-fancy restaurant in Albuquerque. The meal I was interested in ordering was grilled salmon served with a side of cheesy polenta. Back then, I didn’t know what polenta was so I asked the waiter “What’s polenta?”  He told me that it was a cornmeal dish. Sounded good, so I ordered the salmon.  When he set the plate in front of me, I took one look at the “polenta” and in the thick southern accent I had at the time, said “Well, that’s just cornmeal mush!” It was a tasty cornmeal mush, but it was definitely cornmeal mush which, like polenta, is just cornmeal boiled in water or milk.

Cornmeal mush, polenta – whatever you call it, is delicious and is a dish that I’ve actually been eating all of my life.  It’s basically a yellow form of grits. There are SO many ways to season polenta, from a very simple dish with just salt and a tab of butter on top, to a more complex dish made with milk or cream, a mix of herbs and spices, and one or two types of cheese.  It can also be poured it into a mold, allowed to set overnight, then sliced and fried.

Here I’ve given you a simple little cheesy polenta with a touch of onion, some smoked paprika, and a little aged cheddar.  It takes less than 30 minutes to make and goes great with grilled salmon, pork, beef, and a variety of vegetables.

Smoky Cheesy Polenta

Smokey Cheesy Polenta - Polenta with smoky polenta and aged cheddar

Polenta with smoked paprika and aged cheddar
Print or Save Recipe
Smoky Cheesy Polenta with Aged Cheddar Cheese
10 mins
20 mins
Total Time
30 mins
A cheesy polenta enhanced with a touch of smoked paprika and aged cheddar.

"*" See Kitchen Notes for more information or links to special ingredients.

Course: Grains, Side Dish
Yields: 4 servings
Recipe Author: MJ of MJ's Kitchen
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal (polenta style cornmeal)
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • Cracked White pepper
  • ½ cup Aged Cheddar Cheese, grated
  1. In a medium size sauce pan, bring the water with the salt and onion to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to low and SLOWLY whisk in cornmeal. Cover.
  3. For the first 5 minutes, stir each minute to ensure it doesn’t clump or stick to the bottom of the pot.
  4. Add the paprika.
  5. Continue cooking on low, covered, stirring frequently until polenta becomes thick, approximately 15 minutes.
  6. Add a generous amount of cracked white pepper followed by the cheddar cheese. Stir to combine.
  7. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest for a couple of minutes. Stir again before serving.
Kitchen Notes

Polenta – You can buy a ready-made polenta or you can make your own which is easy to do. Just buy a coarse ground cornmeal instead of a fine ground.  Some products are even called “polenta-style” cornmeal.  To reduce or increase the amount that you cook, remember that for any cornmeal dish, the ratio is 1 cup liquid to 1/4 cup meal.


Water or stock – For the liquid use water, a stock of your choice, or half stock/half water. The liquid I use depends on what I’m serving with the polenta. If I’m serving it with fish or just vegetables, I use water; pork or beef – beef stock or half beef/half water; chicken – chicken stock.


Smoked Paprika and Aged Cheddar – These two ingredients are so complementary of each other that I would hesitate to change either one. However, if all you have is regular cheddar, then you could use just about any chile powder you have on hand.  Just adjust the amount accordingly based on the chile’s heat index.


Thickness of polenta – I like a thicker polenta than most people so I’m careful not to add too much liquid.  However, if the polenta gets too thick for your preference, then add a little more HOT water, but wait until after you’ve added the cheese. If it’s still too thick, you could add more liquid or even more cheese.


Leftovers – If you have any leftovers, heat them up in the microwave or on the stovetop for another meal, or pack the leftover polenta in a round container and refrigerate.  My mother use to use a tall plastic soda glass.  When ready to use, carefully remove the polenta from the container by running a knife around the edge and then sliding onto a cutting board.  Slice into 1/2 inch rounds.  Lay each slice on a paper towel to drain.  Fry in a non-stick skillet with a little oil. Fry one side until crispy brown, flip and fry the other side until crispy brown.



Smokey Cheesy Polenta - Polenta with smoked paprika and aged cheddar


Here’s how Karen @Back Road Journal‘s mother used leftover polenta:  “My mother used to pour leftovers into an empty can. When hard and she wanted to use it, she would remove the bottom of the can with an opener and then push it out.”  That’s SO clever!

Serving suggestions – As I mentioned before, this smoky cheesy polenta with cheddar is a great complement for grilled, smoked or cedar planked salmon.  It also goes well with braised or smoked pork and grilled flank steak.  For a vegetarian meal, top the polenta with roasted or sauteed vegetables or one of our favorites – sauteed greens.



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60 Responses to “Smoky Polenta with Aged Cheddar”

  1. Rochelle Ramos August 6, 2013 at 2:58 am #

    This looks and sounds soooo good! I love polenta in that you can change it up and make it completely different in so many ways (though I find that cheese always makes it the best :D)

  2. CJ at Food Stories July 24, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

    Mmmm … Your version of polenta is making my mouth water 🙂

  3. Laura @ Family Spice July 19, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    I’ve had polenta but not cornmeal mush! I prefer my polenta thicker and not so fluid. I’m not a grits girl, but your post made me laugh!

  4. Kayle (The Cooking Actress) July 17, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    I’ve never had polenta…but this sounds like something I could TOTALLY get into!

  5. Free Spirit Eater July 16, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Oh wow! This is polenta done right! =] Great recipe, thanks for sharing! =]

  6. Terra July 16, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    My mind immediately went to my mom’s venison stroganoff…..and now I am drooling! I loved that you mixed all these lovely flavors together, polenta is something I definitely don’t eat enough! Gorgeous, Hugs, Terra

    • mj July 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      Venison Stroganoff – now you’re making me drool! Thanks!

  7. Swathi July 15, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    That is yummy plate of goodness. Love it Mj.

  8. Jennie @themessybakerblog July 15, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    I have yet to make polenta. After seeing this, I’m going to need some immediately. It sounds so good, and I love the combo of cheese you added. Yum!

  9. Nami | Just One Cookbook July 15, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    I’ve only had polenta at restaurants but never prepared it myself at home. It’s relatively “new” item but I love to try different way to eat this. Aged cheddar sounds amazing with polenta! <3

    • mj July 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

      Thanks Nami! It’s a good substitute for rice which I know you eat a lot of, so maybe for something different – polenta. 🙂

  10. Minnie@thelady8home July 14, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    I have always wanted to cook polenta, but never got around to it because I did not know what to look for, lol!! NOW I know, so it’s time I gave it a try and this looks like just the place to start.

    • mj July 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      Glad to help out Minnie! Hope you can find the coarse ground cornmeal.

  11. Reese July 14, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    The first time I tried cornmeal was in South Africa where they serve in porridge form. Very tasty! I started using it as coating for fried foods and cakes, but it always takes me a while to go through the whole bag. Now I can put the polenta in good use again with your recipe. The addition of cheese sounds just fantastic!

    • mj July 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

      Thanks Reese! I guess if you add enough liquid to this, you would have a porridge. My mother served more of porridge actually. Hers was a lot softer and runnier. Hope you give it a try!

  12. Charles July 14, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    I couldn’t stand polenta for so long… then I had it again a while back and wondered what I’d been missing out on my whole life! I guess the stuff I had wasn’t cooked in a “nice” way… it’s funny how such an experience can put you off for life?! Well, almost for life… I like it again now, so I’d be all over this. This looks lovely… perhaps with some chopped scallions on top too… mmm! 😀

    • mj July 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

      Thanks Charles! I’m so glad your tastes have matured. 🙂 Actually, I know what you mean. I use to hate “greens”, now I love them! 🙂 The chopped scallions sound like a great addition!

  13. Helene D'souza July 14, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    MJ you are making me sooo hungry now, my hands are trembling when I am writing this. Luckily this dish is quick to make but I don’t have ages cheddar so I ll have to use the regular cheddar. Superb recipe MJ!

  14. Carole July 12, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    Up to now polenta hasn’t done it for me -but I like the sound of your one, MJ! Maybe I should give it another go. Cheers

  15. Vicki Bensinger July 12, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    Most of the time when I make polenta I use parmesan cheese. Your version sounds very flavorful with the smoked paprika and then finishing it with cheddar cheese. Nice combination that I’m sure would be a hit at my home. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  16. ChgoJohn July 12, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Cornmeal mush. Why don’t you just stick the knife in my heart, MJ? 🙂
    Naming conventions aside, this sounds like a wonderful dish. I love POLENTA with plenty of cheese and though cheddar isn’t exactly in the Italian tradition, I bet it tastes incredibly good. Thanks for sharing another great recipe. 🙂

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

      LOL! Sorry about that John! 🙂 I didn’t realize cheese isn’t common in Italian polenta. Interesting. Thanks for you nice comment!

  17. Viviane Bauquet Farre July 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    Oooooh… This I love!

  18. Kalyan July 12, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    just mouthwatering….looks delicious!

  19. Kiersten @ Oh My Veggies July 12, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Aged cheddar and smoked paprika–two of my favorite ingredients to cook with! This sounds so tasty. 🙂

  20. Kate@Diethood July 12, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    My grandma used to make polenta for us every weekend, so it always reminds me of her. 🙂
    I make mine similar to yours…I also add some granny smiths to it! 🙂

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      Granny Smiths in polenta – now that sounds very interesting! Definitely will be giving it a try. Thanks!

  21. Sandra | Sandra's Easy Cooking July 12, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    I love polenta, as well as my whole family. Yours with smoked paprika and cheddar sounds even more tempting and delicious! Happy Friday MJ, enjoy your weekend too

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:55 am #

      Thanks Sandra! This is definitely one of the favorites in this house! Happy Friday to you too Sandra!

  22. Sanjeeta kk July 12, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    Wow..this is my comfort food also….I eat my polenta with fresh ghee..yum!

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      Thanks Sanjeeta! I don’t use ghee, but I do place a tab of salted butter on top at times. 🙂

  23. Giulietta | Alterkitchen July 12, 2013 at 3:10 am #

    In Italy polenta is a classic (well, a winter classic), and we eat it with meat (sausages and so), with cheese, with fish… and then, leftovers. Leftovers are amazing, grilled or fried. Have you ever tried them? 🙂

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Yes – I have fried the leftovers! Love them! Polenta is something I eat year round. We both love it so much. Hope you’re doing well Giulia!!

  24. Amber @ The Cook's Sister July 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    I’m so glad that you explained what polenta is… I would have had to ask! Mushy cornmeal… hmmm… I’ll take your word that this is delicious. I’ve had cornbread a few times, but that’s it as far as cornmeal goes. I want to give this a try, but am feeling a bit hesitant. Funny, I have no problem eating offal, but this makes me nervous! Thanks for the tips, now to work up the courage to try this dish!

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:52 am #

      Oh Amber – you really should give it a try. It’s so simple to make and the flavor is awesome! I think the problem people might have is the texture, but that can be adjusted with less or more liquid. Also, if you find that you don’t like it soft, then let is sit overnight and fry it the next day. I explain how to do that in my kitchen notes. Give it a try girl! 🙂

  25. Sissi July 11, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    MJ, you have made your bowl of humble polenta look so magnificent and elegant, I almost changed my mind about it… Polenta is actually one of the rare Italian dishes I am not fond of…. I do like it a though when it’s very thick and fried. Cheddar and paprika would be perfect on it!

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      Aside from fish out of a jar, polenta is something we differ on? Amazing! Well, at least you like the fried version. 🙂 I have a friend here in town that also doesn’t like it soft, but loves it fried. This smoky version makes a great fried polenta!

  26. CCU July 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Polenta is so beautiful 😀
    This is a great way to eat it!


  27. Debra July 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Mmmm….I want some fried leftovers. 🙂

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      Oh I love it fried! Thanks Debra!

  28. The Wimpy Vegetarian July 11, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    oh I love polenta (in all its forms, under all its names). I love your mom’s way of storing for leftovers. That’s just genius.

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      Thanks Susan! My mother had some pretty clever ideas in the kitchen!

  29. john@kitchenriffs July 11, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    That glass trick is terrific! And you’re so right that polenta and cornmeal mush are the same thing – I’ve known people who go into spasms of excitement over the idea of polenta, but turn up their noses at cornmeal mush. That’s OK – more for me! Love the smoked paprika and aged cheddar with this, too – the flavor must be awesome. Thanks so much for this.

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      I know what you mean John! I seen the same thing in people’s reactions. I guess that’s why we never see “cornmeal mush” on a menu. 🙂 Thanks for your comments as always!

  30. Jessica @ My Tasty Theatrical Life July 11, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    This looks delicious!! I will definitely have to give this one a try 😀

  31. Karen (Back Road Journal) July 11, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    I agree with you MJ, whatever you want to call it…polenta in this case, it is delicious. My mother used to pour leftovers into an empty can. When hard and she wanted to use it, she would remove the bottom of the can with an opener and then push it out.

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:45 am #

      Oh I LOVE that idea Karen!!! I’m adding that to the post. Sometimes I have to pound the glass pretty hard on the counter to release the bottom, so the can method sounds perfect! Thanks!

  32. Jen @ The Scrumptious Pumpkin July 11, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    I have memories of my first polenta dish too – years ago I tried to make it myself and it certainly didn’t turn out anything like your delicious-looking dish! It was a “mush” for sure, and very bland too. Your looks perfect and so tasty with the cheddar! 🙂

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Thanks Jen! You really should give it another try. If it turned out too “mushy”, then it probably had too much water or the cornmeal was too fine. Be sure to look for coarse ground meal and use the 4:1 ratio of liquid to meal. Hope you give it another try.

  33. Ramona July 11, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    Polenta always confused me too. I have looked in the grocery store for it…. now I see it’s just cornmeal. I still have not tried it…. so I know it’s a must soon.

    I love your add-ins to this polenta…. anything to make it creamy and delicious. 🙂

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:42 am #

      Thanks Ramona! Yep – polenta is just cornmeal! But I guess most people would rather order “polenta” than “cornmeal mush”. 🙂

  34. Biren @ Roti n Rice July 11, 2013 at 6:49 am #

    I hope I am not the only one here who has not tasted grits or cornmeal mush. I’ve just never come across it. However, I do use polenta in my breads and always have some in my pantry. Maybe I should give your version a try. It looks really tasty.

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      Not to worry – apparently you are not alone. 🙂 I think where you live, grits are hard to find, but you should be able to find the coarse ground cornmeal. But then maybe not. Hope you get a chance to try it and thanks for stopping by! Have a great weekend!

  35. Lyn July 11, 2013 at 6:46 am #

    That looks so delicious! And I love your mother’s tip to put leftovers in a soda glass. I will definitely be using that one.

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      Thanks Lyn! The plastic glass idea works great! I use it all of the time!

  36. Angie@Angie's Recipes July 11, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    This looks lick-the-plate-clean delicious and comforting!

  37. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef July 11, 2013 at 6:20 am #

    I love this. I also like the leftovers done in the plastic glass. Clever. 🙂

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:39 am #

      Thanks Maureen! Yes, my mother was a very clever person! 🙂

  38. Treat and Trick July 11, 2013 at 5:52 am #

    This simple meal looks amazing with combination of onion, paprika and pepper!


  1. Smoky Polenta with Aged Cheddar | IMG Recipes| Discover Recipes, Cooking Tips & Food Images - April 12, 2014

    […] April 12, 2014 Sam Leave a comment Smoky Polenta with Aged Cheddar Add a little smoked paprika and aged cheddar cheese for a delicious, mouthwatering polenta.For full “Smoky Polenta with Aged Cheddar” recipe click here […]

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