I have recently been getting a lot of requests for this recipe from Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals. The cornmeal mush known as polenta, one of the national dishes of Italy, emerged in its original form as the field ration of the Roman soldier. Although pulmentum was made of millet or spelt (cornmeal was unknown to the ancient Romans), it boasted the same versatility that we love in polenta today — you can cook it up and serve it immediately while it’s still creamy, or let it set up like a cake that can be sliced and sautéed.
Cooking polenta on the stove requires a lot of hands-on time — and not a little care. It is hot and sticky and bubbles up and out in a Vesuvius-like way. Here, I cook polenta in the oven, which drastically decreases the hands-on time. This recipe can do double duty as a great weeknight side dish or a vegetarian main dish topped with Porcini Mushroom Sauce (Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals, page 263) or some chopped canned tomatoes sautéed with onions and garlic, and a few bottled artichokes added at the end. A green salad would be a nice addition if you turn it into an entrée.
Makes 4 servings
Hands-on time: 5 minutes
Total preparation time: 55 minutes
1 cup yellow cornmeal or regular (not instant) coarse polenta
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper
2 ounces provolone cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about 2/3 cup)
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Combine 4 cups water, the cornmeal, butter, salt, and pepper in a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Bake, uncovered, on the top shelf of the oven for 40 minutes.
Remove the polenta from the oven, give it a stir, and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven; stir in the provolone and salt and pepper to taste; let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Serve topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano.