Polenta is simply cooked cornmeal of various textures (fine, medium or coarse grind). Traditionally it was cooked in a large copper lined pot over the hearth and when ready, the polenta was spilled onto a wooden board near the fire to be scooped into your bowl together with the meat or vegetables it was served with. As romantic as this sounds, polenta can be easily cooked on top of the stove in a regular pot. You can cook it in water, stock or milk and when it is ready you add butter and cheeses for additional flavour.
The basic cooking ratio of polenta is one part polenta to 4 cups liquid but I find that depending on the cornmeal you use the ratio can vary. Bring the water to a boil and slowly drizzle in the polenta, so the water barely looses its boiling point. Lower the heat then and cook, stirring frequently, until polenta is creamy and cooked through.
Polenta can be served warm and creamy straight from the pot, or it can be cooled for a few hours to firm up and then cut into shapes for baking, broiling, frying or sautéing. To cool the polenta spread it in a lightly oiled pan to a thickness of about 1/2 inch and refrigerate. When firm, cut into shapes and proceed with the recipe.