Is there a bag of cornmeal in your pantry? Turn it into the amazingly simple yet delicious side dish, polenta! It’s creamy, satisfying, and totally hands-off to make.
If you haven’t had polenta before, it’s similar to grits. The main different is that it’s made from corn that is ground in a different way. I prefer it since it has a bit more flavor. And if you, like me, are currently staying home a lot and living off of your pantry, it’s time to grab that bag of cornmeal and do something with it.
Really, all you need to make polenta is cornmeal. Yes, cornmeal, that stuff that you bought to dust the bottom of your pan when making pizza. That’s the only critical ingredient. Well…except…
So remember how I just said that polenta has more flavor than grits? It still doesn’t really taste like much. Like many of our beloved carbohydrates, polenta takes on the flavors of whatever you mix it with. Therefore, treating it the way you’d treat mashed potatoes is a great way to go. What do I mean? I mean butter and milk or cream, salt, pepper, garlic, maybe some cheese.
I have to tell you that, as much as I do love polenta, I never used to make it much. That’s because it’s a bit of a pain to make. It clumps up rather easily and so you need to stir it really frequently. UNLESS you use the below method and cook it in the oven instead of on the stove. I swear, this method for making polenta is nearly completely hands off and it turns out so delicious.
To make oven polenta, first lightly grease a 13×9 inch cake pan. You can use cooking spray, olive oil, or butter. Then all you do is add the dry cornmeal, hot tap water, and salt and then stir it together. Put it straight into a 350°F oven and wait for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes you stir in some butter and some cheese, if you’d like. To keep it vegan, you can use olive oil instead of butter and skip the cheese. Then you bake it for 10 more minutes, just to let everything settle in together.
Finally, take it out of the oven and stir it again. If it’s too thick, stir in hot tap water, a little drizzle at a time, to get the texture that you’d like. I like mine to be the texture somewhere between porridge and mashed potatoes. Super satisfying and filling, with almost no work. Isn’t that a great pantry side?
If you’re looking for more pantry dinner ideas, we’re doing a whole series on the topic. Head over here to see all of our Pantry Meal Ideas.
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups coarse cornmeal
- 1 tsp. salt
- 5 1/2 cups hot water
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. butter (optional)
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with the olive oil.
- Add cornmeal and salt to the pan and stir. Add the hot water and stir.
- Bake 45 minutes. Add the optional garlic powder, butter, and/or cheese (if using) and stir. Bake another 10 minutes.
- Stir. Add more hot tap water and stir if you need to thin it (you can also add more water if reheating on a later date).
- Taste and add more salt or cheese, if desired.