A few nights ago I had some friends over for dinner and with wine glasses in hand we gathered in the kitchen as the meal finished cooking. One of my friends pointed to the five or so index cards affixed to the side of the refrigerator and said, “I love your recipe cards…such a good idea…wait a minute! You can make polenta in the oven?” Yes, yes, it is true. Baked polenta is a shortcut I often forget the world is not fully aware of. And what a shame — it has saved me countless hours stirring over the hot stove and in all likelihood has prevented some sort of stirring-related wrist injury (hyperbole can be fun, no?).
One of the last things I would ever want to be accused of is lazy butttttt if something that is endlessly time consuming can be revamped into something nearly one hundred percent hands off I will take it, every time. Such is the case with polenta. I adore the yellow Italian porridge more than most — always making a point to order it off restaurant menus and cooking it at home at least once a week. I refrigerate any leftovers and pan fry little squares of the chilled, firm polenta to savor its crispy exterior and creamy center. The addition of cheese, herbs and cream can transform bland cornmeal into the perfect accompaniment to a main dish.
I sent my friend Amy home with her own little index card with the bare-bones directions scribbled with a Sharpie and proceeded to make a batch baked polenta the following evening. We were having spicy Italian sausages and peppers for dinner that night, so stirring in a few generous crumbles of blue cheese and a few tablespoons of heavy cream into the polenta felt like the right thing to do. Infinitely adaptable, feel free to tweak this recipe to make it your own — add Parmesan, or cheddar, or chop some rosemary and add a few extra pats of butter. This is a side dish that is about as forgiving as it gets.
baked polenta with gorgonzola
adapted widely from Giada de Laurentiis
yields 4 generous side servings
1c polenta or medium grind cornmeal
2-3T heavy cream (optional)
2-3oz Gorgonzola, crumbled or other melting cheese (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium, nonreactive baking dish combine the polenta, water and salt. Bake for 50 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and stir in the butter. Bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and stir in the cream and Gorgonzola. Taste for seasonings. If the polenta seems too loose, bake for a few more minutes to dry out.