Cornmeal mush, also known as polenta, is one of the national dishes of Italy. It emerged in its original form as the field ration of the Roman soldiers. Food historians say it was originally made from millet or spelt (cornmeal was unknown to ancient Romans and Italins and only later imported to Europe).
I love the creamy smooth texture of polenta and its versatility. It makes a great breakfast, lunch, or dinner side dish. You can serve it with beans, poached or fried eggs, red sauce with meatballs or lamb or turkey sausage, or a side of fish. It pairs well with a crisp green salad, blanched broccoli with cauliflower, carrots, and bell peppers, or sautéed leafy greens.
The downside is that polenta usually requires 20 to 30 minutes of continuous stirring to keep it from getting lumpy or sticking to the bottom of the pot. This alone can discourage even the most enthusiastic cook from making it.
This recipe takes away our excuses. It makes life (and meal preparation) easy. You assemble most of the ingredients. Place the pan in the oven. Give it a stir 40 minutes later. Add the last few ingredients, and bake it for another 10 minutes.
How do you reheat the leftovers? You can steam heat slices of polenta in a heatproof glass container on a rack or steamer tray over rapidly boiling water (you must cover the steamer) or by placing the heatproof container in a toaster oven at 300˚F for 10 to 15 minutes.
Creamy Baked Polenta
Prep: 5 minutes Cooking: 50 minutes Serves: 4 to 6
I didn’t invent this technique for baked polenta. It came from Sara Moulton's book, Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals.
Note: Look for organic cornmeal or polenta to avoid genetically modified corn.
4 cups filtered water
1 cup yellow cornmeal (not instant) or coarse polenta, organic if possible
2 tablespoons hormone-free butter, thinly sliced (extra-virgin olive oil also works)
1 teaspoon unrefined, mineral-rich sea salt (I changed the kind of salt)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 ounces hormone-free provolone cheese, grated (I’ve used part skim mozzarella)*
2 ounce hormone-free parmesan cheese, finely grated (I’ve made it w/only 1 ounce)*
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
2. Combine water, cornmeal, butter or oil, and salt in an oiled 1 1/2- to 2-quart baking dish (9x9x2 or 8x10x2. Do not cover.
3. Bake uncovered, on the top shelf of the oven for 40 minutes.
4. Remove polenta from the oven, stir, and bake for another 10 minutes.
5. Remove polenta from the oven again, and this time stir in the pepper, and provolone.
6. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Serve topped with the Parmesan cheese.
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* For Cheese-Free Polenta: Omit both cheeses. Prepare as directed above.
* Breakfast Polenta: Steam heat and serve cheese-free polenta and serve with organic milk or plain yogurt with fresh raw or cooked fruit, or top plain or cheesy polenta with w/a couple of fried or poached eggs or serve with lamb breakfast sausage and a side of cooked leafy greens and fresh fruit.
* Replace provolone with part-skim mozzarella.