I love polenta. Like really, I absolutely love the stuff, but it has to be made right. Honestly, if you’re buying it in the tube at the grocery store and expecting it to taste good straight from the tube you’re going to be sadly disappointed like I was at first. I’m going to go out on a limb and say even if you can get good polenta in a tube, you’re better off making it from scratch anyways.
The wonderful thing about this dish is the polenta layer can be left soft or it can be baked until the edges are crispy and crunchy and the inside is soft and creamy and delicious. Completely up to you, and both ways are great.
Also, you can freeze polenta. Although it doesn’t take much time to throw together it is incredibly helpful to make a large batch, cut into pieces and wrap in saran wrap. Throw them in the freezer in a ziploc bag and you’re one step closer to enjoying this meal(or a crunchy snack) whenever.
Plus, I hope everyone knows already that tomato based sauces freeze especially well, so when you need dinner, just pull out a batch of polenta, some tomato sauce and throw it all together for a super yummy meal. Of course using frozen polenta the bake time will be longer but you can just unwrap it, spritz or brush with oil and throw it in the oven, just be sure to watch that the bottom doesn’t burn before you realize it.
Creamy Garlic Herb Polenta
- 2 C milk
- 1 3/4 C water
- 1/4 C butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/4 C freshly grated parmesan
- 1 C cornmeal(quick cooking variety)
- oil for baking
Prepare a 9×13 pan by lightly greasing the bottom and sides. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium sized pot. Add the garlic and let cook for a couple minutes over medium-low heat till very fragrant. Add the milk, water and all the seasonings except the Parmesan cheese and the cornmeal. I also recommend using fresh herbs if you have them, just be sure to triple the amounts used and stir in at the same time as the Parmesan cheese – after it’s done cooking and is off the heat.
Bring to a boil then remove from the heat and while whisking to avoid lumps, slowly add the cornmeal. Continue to whisk and return the pot to the heat and whisk while waiting for the mixture to boil. Over medium-high heat this should onto take a minute or two unless you decide to use a longer cooking variety. If you do use a variety that needs to cook longer adjust the liquids in this recipe if needed and cook as long as required.
Once the polenta starts bubbling and is completely thickened remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs if not using dried. Then pour into the greased 9×13 pan. With a spatula lightly brushed or sprayed with oil smooth the top. Cover and place in the fridge until chilled and set, at least 1 hour.
To make the polenta lasagna you can leave the polenta in the pan and bake it for a slightly easier variation or you can cut squares and remove the polenta to bake and top which will result in a crunchier base.
To make crunchy polenta bites of any size or shape for snacking or larger pieces for incorporating into the polenta lasagna, preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
To remove from the pan to bake, cut appropriately sized pieces from the pan and place them on a baking sheet generously sprayed with oil making sure none of the edges are touching. Then spray the tops of the polenta with oil once they’re all on the sheet. Place them in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, checking the underside often to prevent burning and turning the sheet so that all the pieces are evenly browned on the bottom. Once they are a deep golden on the bottom turn on your broiler and cook just until the tops are golden and crunchy. Serve as is, or top for polenta lasagna according to the following recipe.
- 1 recipe Creamy Garlic Herb Polenta(recipe above)
- oil for baking
- 3-4 C your favorite tomato based sauce(I use my basic marinara sauce to which you can add meat or any veggies you like, or just leave plain)
- 3-4 large handfuls spinach, roughly chopped
- 2-3 C mozzarella cheese
- A few leaves of fresh basil if available
Make one recipe of the garlic herb polenta above and let it set in the fridge.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
If you plan to cook the polenta in the pan you used to let it cool in then place immediately in the oven while the oven and the pan are still cold and let them heat up together. Otherwise cut squares out of the polenta and place on a well oiled baking sheet and spray or brush the tops with oil. Place in the oven and bake till your desired level of crispiness on the bottom(I bake mine till very brown and crispy, but even fairly soft polenta will be delicious) then broil just until the top is golden.
Remove from the oven and turn the oven back to 425 degrees. Top your polenta with your spinach or other greens to which you can also add fresh basil or other fresh herbs which would taste awesome, then add the tomato sauce and then a generous sprinkling of cheese. Return to the oven for about 10-15 minutes until the spinach is wilted, the cheese is melted and everything is heated through. Turn on your broiler again for 2-6 minutes(depending on how close your pan is to the heating element and how hot your broiler gets, as mine has different settings but a lot do not) or until the cheese is golden and bubbly then remove and serve while still hot. Top with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese if desired.