This baked polenta recipe with cheese and vegetables is sure to be a real hit.
Sometimes you just want something different. The next time you’re feeling like that, instead of the usual pasta, try polenta.
I am half Italian, so I grew up eating polenta and loved it. It’s a really versatile dish that you can do so much with.
Most of you are probably familiar with polenta. If you are not, here is a mini course:
What Is Polenta?
Polenta is a dish that originated in Northern Italy. It is a porridge type mixture made from ground corn. Polenta is similar to grits, but is made from a slightly different type of corn.
Polenta is actually eaten in several European countries and in those countries goes by another name. My mother who was of German/Eastern European background called it mamalika or mamaliga. Romanians love mamaliga and use it often in their cuisine.
The polenta mixture is pretty much the same in all of these countries, but what they do with it is often quite different. While Italians often add tomato sauce and cheeses on top of the polenta, other countries will add ingredients and flavors that are more native to their areas and their cuisines.
Polenta has a mild, fairly neutral taste, so it pairs well with lots of other ingredients. As I mentioned above, Italians will most often serve polenta covered in tomato sauce, sometimes accompanied by meatballs, sausage or other meats. In our house when I was growing up, my mother often served it with hot Italian sausage.
The traditional way to serve polenta in Italy was spread out about an inch and a half thick on a wooden board. The sauce was added on top, then the meats on top of that.
In some families this board is set in the middle of the table and family members eat it right off the board.
How To Make Polenta
Basic polenta is quite easy to make, with a few ingredients and a couple of important tips.
The ingredients are simple: cornmeal, a liquid to boil it in and a bit of salt. That’s it.
Water is usually the main liquid, but people will often cook the polenta in milk, or part milk and part water as in this recipe.
Bring the water and milk mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and slowly add the cornmeal (polenta). Stir it well to make sure the cornmeal is fully mixed with the liquid.
Stirring is important to the cornmeal cooking process. If you don’t stir it often while it cooks the polenta can easily and quickly become lumpy or stick to the bottom of the pan. Don’t let that intimidate you though or keep you from making this wonderful cheesy baked polenta. It’s not difficult and really worth the effort.
Just remember to stir it OFTEN.
Tips:Adding a bit of butter (or a “knob of butter” as the Brits would say) at the end of the cooking process makes the polenta richer and creamier. You may not think that a small bit of butter could make much difference but it really does. It’s a great addition.
I recommend that you don’t skimp by using margarine. The butter is really nice in polenta. That said, suit yourself.
Add Parmesan cheese to the finished polenta recipe. Stir it in just after you have added the butter. The Parmesan adds a wonderful rich and slightly salty flavor to the polenta, which is pretty bland without seasonings and additions.
This particular polenta recipe combines smooth, velvety cornmeal with a savory mixture of vegetables and herbs. I layer 1/2 of the cooked polenta in a baking dish, then layer on the delicious vegetables, sprinkle with cheese, spread on the rest of the polenta and top with the rest of the cheese. Oh yum, it’s heavenly!
Just pop the mixture in the oven and get ready for a wonderful taste experience.
I have used a mix of cherry tomatoes, red peppers, fresh parsley, garlic and spinach between the layers of polenta. Sauté them in a bit of wonderful olive oil and you are on your way to a delicious meal.
Of course the vegetables I used aren’t the only ones that would be delicious in this recipe. Here is a list of other choices that would taste fantastic in this baked polenta:
Hot peppers or chili peppers if you like it spicy
This recipe can easily be multiplied to serve as many as you want.
Cheesy baked polenta can be served as a main dish or a side dish. Think of dinners where you would probably serve pasta, like chicken Parmesan. Replace the standard side of pasta with this fabulous veggie filled polenta recipe. Or eat it on it’s own with a salad for a delicious vegetarian meal.
A simple switch – using vegan cheese – makes this recipe vegan.
Please note that cornmeal itself is gluten free. That said, if you need this recipe to be totally gluten free, please read the label on your cornmeal to make sure it has been processed in a gluten free environment.
Cheese and Vegetable Baked Polenta Recipe
- 1 9x9" baking dish
For the Polenta:
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons butter, cold unsalted, cut into pieces
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
For the Filling:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 red pepper, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped
- 6 fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
- Generously butter a 9-inch square baking dish and set it aside.
To Make the Polenta:
- Combine the milk, water and salt in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and very slowly sprinkle in the cornmeal, whisking continuously. Cook for 5 minutes or until the cornmeal mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot.
- Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Set it aside as you prepare the filling, which only takes a few minutes.
To Make the Filling:
- Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of good quality olive oil into a sauté pan and heat it to medium. Add the red pepper and garlic and sauté them for a few minutes to cook the peppers. Then add in the cherry tomatoes and spinach. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook only until the spinach has wilted down.
- With a spatula, spread half the mixture into the prepared 9" baking dish.
- Top with the vegetable mixture and place the basil leaves on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle half of the grated mozzarella cheese on top. Spread the remaining polenta mixture over the vegetables, then sprinkle on the 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Dot the casserole with the remaining butter.
- Let the polenta sit at least 15 minutes, or cover and chill up to 24 hours. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.
- Crack more black pepper over the top of the baked polenta before serving if you wish.
- Makes 4 servings.
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