Posted by: Deana | March 24, 2010

Quick Polenta Casserole

polenta casseroleaka “Lazy Girl’s Lasagna.”

We needed an easy dinner last night with minimal prep, quick cooking time and little clean up.  This is what I came up with.  Thankfully I realized on Sunday night that we’d need an easy dinner Monday, so I made some polenta ahead of time Sunday evening.  I made some basic polenta from this cookbook (which has been a very useful book to have).

I enjoy eating polenta and love how easy it is to turn into a meal once it’s made, but I hate making it. When it’s been a while since I’ve made a polenta meal, I think, “we haven’t had polenta in a while, it’s so cheep, good and versatile,  I should make it more often.” Then when I’m actually making it I think, “!@%$#, I never want to make this again!  Is polenta really worth all this?” Then when I eat it I think, “This is so good, I guess it was worth it.”  Then I tell myself that  I need to just to suck it up and be tougher in the kitchen like an old Italian woman who’s made countless pots of polenta.  Bottom line?  It’s tasty, cheep, and versatile, but it’s not fun to make.

Basic Polenta

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ cups medium-grind cornmeal
  • butter (optional – I didn’t add this, to Z’s disappointment)
  • extra-virgin olive oil (optional – also didn’t use this)

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the water and salt to a full boil.  Whisk in the cornmeal in a slow steady stream (have your arms covered and an oven mitt on your hand in preparation for boiling-hot flying blobs of pasty cornmeal).  Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon as the mixture thickens. (This is the second-worst part of making polenta: the endless stirring.)

If desired, stir in a few tablespoons of butter (or chevre goat cheese – done that before, so good).  Serve hot.  Or scrape the polenta into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Smooth the top and let cool.  The polenta will solidify and can be cut into slices.  To reheat, brush lightly with olive oil and place on the grill (we’ve tried this and they fell apart and made a mess of the grill) or under the broiler briefly, until golden and heated through.

Sunday evening I made the polenta put it into our 9 x 13 inch dish and put it in the fridge after it had cooled.  Monday, I raided the fridge for leftovers to top the polenta:

  • I covered the polenta with some leftover tomato-based pasta sauce we had (jarred, from Costco)
  • sprinkled that with a generous amount of garlic powder
  • then added some sausage we had left over from making pizza over the weekend
  • some chopped Italian parsley, also left over from pizza night
  • sprinkled some Parmigiano reggiano cheese (aged 2 years) over all of it
  • then added the little bit of Fontina cheese we had to about half and covered the other half in mozzarella (for Z)

Then I reheated it in a 350º oven for about 30 minutes.

It was delicious.  Tonight we’re happily eating leftovers.

In the summer, we like to make it, chill it in the 9 x 13, cut it into slices, reheat it and then top it with grilled vegetables we get at the farmer’s market.


  1. I know what you mean about the flying blobs… it is downright dangerous. I like how you actually cursed on your blog… I mean, bleeped out and all, but thank you for helping to convey how painful it can be to make polenta… but it IS worth it!!

    When I’ve made this type of thing, I make the polenta, spread it in the casserole dish, and bake it, then let it cool a little bit, then top it with stuff and put it right back in the oven. The polenta part is pretty gooey still. Do you feel like refrigerating it overnight before adding toppings helps it be more like a crust?

    • I’ve always let it cool before baking it, Emily, which probably does make it a little firmer (? it has to be cut, but we cut it with a metal spatula), but it’s still pretty soft. Next time I make it, I’m going to bake the polenta for a little while before adding the toppings. This last time we made this, it seemed like the cheese was melted and browning before the polenta was warm towards the middle of the pan.

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