Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Baked Polenta with Tomato Sauce

I have only made polenta a  few times.  It's kind of unnerving how quickly the cornmeal becomes one glob.

When I saw this recipe for baked polenta, I was intrigued.  I happened to have some venison sausage defrosting and thought this might be the perfect way to tone down the spiciness of the sausage.  I've since made the baked polenta without adding meat and I like it just as much.

What it really reminds me of is macaroni and cheese with stewed tomatoes.  I think this combination is a Pennsylvania Dutch creation? I do make baked macaroni and cheese (and stewed tomatoes), but this is so easy [in comparison] that it's silly. 

I think it's also one of the cheapest meals I make.  I'm not good enough at math to figure out the cost per serving or anything like that, but the ingredients are all pantry staples (with the exception of the fresh basil, which I didn't have omitted).  You'll basically need: butter, salt, water, cornmeal, canned tomatoes, onion, and parmesan cheese.

I apologize for the quality of these pictures - I was majorly chasing daylight! (And, yes, the pans are sitting on my rug by the back door)

baked polenta - just needs a stir and to sit for 15 minutes

clockwise: sauteed venison, tomato sauce, polenta

Here is the original recipe, courtesy of Joy the Baker:
Baked Polenta with Tomato and Basil
makes 4 servings

For the Polenta:
4 cups water
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the Tomato Basil topping:
1 (28-ounce) can whole and peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 onion, peeled and sliced in half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
Parmesan cheese for topping

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In an 8×8-inch baking sheet, or a 2 qt baking dish, stir together water, coarse cornmeal, and salt.  Stir to combine.  The cornmeal will sink to the bottom of the pan and the water will turn a bit cloudy.  Place in the oven to bake for 45 minutes. 

Remove from the oven and add butter.  Stir until butter is melted.  Return to the oven to bake for 15 minutes.
Polenta will have a dry top and not jiggle when fully baked.  Remove from the oven and stir in red pepper flakes and cheese.  Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

While the polenta bakes, cook the tomato sauce.
In a medium saucepan combine entire can of tomatoes, juice and all.  Add butter and onion halves.  Keep the onion halves intact, we want to be able to easily remove the onion at the end of cooking.
Place the pan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The butter will melt and create glistening beads on top of the tomato sauce.  The whole tomatoes will bread down, but still maintain just a bit of their tomato chunkiness.  The sauce will thicken as it cooks down.  After the sauce has cooked down, remove the onion halves and discard.

Remove from heat and gently spoon onto cooked polenta.  Top with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. Serve warm.  

I made the recipe as instructed and it was perfect!  If you have five minutes to prep and an hour to wait, this is the perfect weeknight meal!  Rob, Josh, and I loved it.  Kate forced herself to eat it and Emma didn't even try it.  You could definitely add roasted veggies, sauteed meat, or various cheeses - I'd say the possibilities are endless.  I think that's the mark of a good recipe - a solid foundation that can be built upon to suit different tastes.  


  1. Im usually willing to try just about anything you post but I think I have to draw the line at Polenta. For me it's a texture thing....

  2. sounds like something worth trying ..