Get started with this easy tummy pleaser! Polenta is plain old cornmeal. Though often served to impress in Italian restaurants, polenta doesn’t have to be fancy. You can easily shape it into porridge, pie, fritters, tortillas and even dessert! You can add anything to polenta – a perfect grain for managing the summer veggies pouring in! For Italian mammas, polenta is a simple, staple dish. Despite my own mamma’s teachings, my forgetful memory meant I had to go back to the basics.
Inspired by Mark Bittman’s “Basic Polenta, Version 1” in How to Cook Everything. Be creative with your pie! Add thinly sliced zucchini, fried garlic and feta. Try a sweet version with ricotta, raw honey and fresh raspberries – skip the salt!
- Butter - 1 tablespoon
- Red onion - 1/2 red onion, sliced
- Water - 3 1/2 cups
- Cornmeal - 1 cup medium-grind cornmeal, which Mark totes as the best for flavor and texture
- Sea salt - 1 teaspoon
- Spinach - 4 cups coarsely chopped spinach
- Cheddar cheese - 1 cup grated cheddar cheese, plus a little extra for dusting on top
- Black pepper - Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Cumin seeds (optional) - 1/4 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, toasted
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high. Put the onions in the pan and stir with a wooden spoon until the onions become soft and translucent. When translucent, cover with a lid for about 5 minutes and let them caramelize and crisp. Remove the lid to check if the onions are browned. If not, stir again and cover for 2 minute intervals (checking and stirring after 2 minutes) until they are browned and crisped. (A clear lid will help you keep track). Transfer to a small bowl and set aside for the moment.
- In a medium pot, bring the water to a boil over medium-high. Add the salt, and reduce the heat to medium.
- Bit by bit (about 1 tablespoon at a time), add the cornmeal, stirring with a wire whisk or fork constantly. When you have added all the cornmeal, reduce the heat to low.
- For the first 5 minutes, continue whisking once a minute. Then, switch to the wooden spoon used for the onions, and continue stirring almost constantly until the water is fully absorbed.
- After about 7 minutes, stir in about 1 cup of spinach at a time until it is full wilted. Follow immediately with the onions and the cheese (and cumin), reserving some cheese for garnishing on top.
- After about 15 minutes, the polenta will begin to pull away from the sides and thicken. When it does so, turn off the stove and remove the pot from the heat.
- Transfer the polenta into a 9-inch pie dish and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the pie with extra cheese and black pepper.
- Put the polenta pie in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the cheese melts on top.
- Serve warm, or store in the refrigerator for several days as a cold snack, lunch, or dinner side. If you are grilling, add a slice to the grill and char it lightly!
- Note: To toast cumin seeds, heat the spice in a small saucepan over medium-high until they become aromatic. Remove from heat.