Allow us to introduce our secret pantry darling and unsung dinner hero: polenta. A simple dish made from cornmeal, it’s creamy, filling, comforting and cheap—but tastes downright luxurious and will be oh so impressive to your dinner party guests. Here are 40 surprising polenta recipes to incorporate into your weekly rotation.

RELATED: Here’s How to Make Polenta at Home (Because It’s Easier Than You Think)

1. Cornish Hens and Parmesan Polenta with Fennel and Arugula

  • Time Commitment: 45 minutes
  • Why We Love It: special occasion-worthy, high protein, one pan
Sounds fancy, but it’s actually so easy. (Like, cooked in a single skillet easy.)

Get the recipe

2. Polenta Ragu Casserole

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 50 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, high protein, beginner-friendly
All the perks of lasagna, minus the fuss. Your picky eaters will go gaga for the beefy tomato sauce.

Get the recipe

3. Pumpkin Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why We Love It: vegetarian, special occasion-worthy
It doesn’t get cozier than this fall appetizer. You can use either fresh or canned pumpkin, depending on how fancy you want to get (or how lazy you feel).

Get the recipe

4. Cheesy Polenta Bites with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

  • Time Commitment: 45 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, crowd-pleaser, special occasion-worthy
Proof that polenta can be as crispy as it is creamy. These tiny bites are a lot like corner pieces of cornbread.

Get the recipe

5. Polenta and Meatballs

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 5 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, beginner-friendly, high protein
Spaghetti can sit this one out. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to stir polenta for hours on end—just whisk it from time to time to keep it from sticking to the pan.

Get the recipe

6. Creamy Oven Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 55 minutes
  • Why We Love it: <10 ingredients, one pot
It doesn't get more hands-off than this baked approach. Instead of diligently manning the stovetop, let your oven do all the heavy lifting.

Get the recipe

7. Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Bacon

  • Time Commitment: 50 minutes
  • Why We Love It: special occasion-worthy, crowd-pleaser
This bacon-topped stunner is satiating as is, but it'll be even more satisfying topped with a runny egg.

Get the recipe

8. Turkey Sausage and Veggie Polenta Bowls

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: beginner-friendly, high protein
This half-hour wonder just might be the coziest weeknight meal of all time.

Get the recipe

9. Lemon Earl-Grey Polenta Loaf

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 5 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, crowd-pleaser, special occasion-worthy, one bowl
Bright, zingy and impeccably textured, your guests will ooh and ahh over this cake. They'll have no idea it took you practically zero effort to prepare.

Get the recipe

10. Soft Polenta and Mushroom Bowls

  • Time Commitment: 55 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, vegan
The key to an indulgent, dairy-free polenta? Avocado oil (and a generous dollop of basil pesto).

Get the recipe

11. Sautéed Chicken Breast with Cheesy Polenta and Spring Vegetables

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, high protein
Show off your spring farmers market haul with this dish that stars sugar snap peas and asparagus.

Get the recipe

12. Parmesan and Mushroom Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, beginner-friendly
Almond milk is used in place of traditional dairy. Substitute nutritional yeast for Parmesan cheese to make the dish totally vegan.

Get the recipe

13. Polenta, Refried Beans and Egg Skillet Bake

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, <10 ingredients, vegetarian
Monique Volz knows that good things come in skillets. Finish your plate with fresh cilantro, diced avocado and hot sauce.

Get the recipe

14. Cider Apple and Sage Roasted Pork Chops with Brown Butter Gorgonzola Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: special occasion-worthy, high protein, kid-friendly
The chops are cooked in apple cider and fresh apples for tenderness and autumn flavor. Need we say more?

Get the recipe

15. Roasted Tomatoes with Goat Cheese Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, vegetarian
Creamy, tangy and delicious. Make the dish even easier on the eyes by using tricolor or heirloom tomatoes.

Get the recipe

16. Creamy Polenta with Barbecue Tofu and Mango and Heirloom Tomato Salsa

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours
  • Why We Love It: make ahead, vegan, dairy free
Leave it to Gena Hamshaw to create something healthy, easy and appetizing. Save time by marinating the tofu overnight and preparing the salsa a day in advance.

Get the recipe

17. Mini Polenta Pizzas

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours
  • Why We Love It: vegan, gluten free, kid-friendly
Complete with rainbow chard and caramelized onions. They’re plant-based, wheat-free and entirely adorable.

Get the recipe

18. Polenta Bar

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, special occasion-worthy
Introducing Gaby Dalkin’s genius solution for feeding a crowd. Serve the cheesy side with chicken Bolognese, basil vinaigrette, sausage and cooked veggies.

Get the recipe

19. Polenta Cake with Raspberry Rhubarb Compote

  • Time Commitment: 50 minutes
  • Why We Love It: special occasion-worthy, gluten free
It’s true: Polenta can be savory or sweet. (Just ask Phoebe Lapine, who pairs it with juicy berries and tart rhubarb.)

Get the recipe

20. Honey Butter Blackened Scallops with Herby Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: special occasion-worthy, pescatarian, high protein
Don't let the shellfish intimidate you—scallops are so much easier to cook at home than you think. They only require a few minutes of searing per side.

Get the recipe

21. Braised Lentils over Grilled Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: vegan, crowd-pleaser
Oh hey, two cups of red wine. (Thanks, Jodi Moreno!) Serve it all over kale or spinach with a dollop of dairy-free yogurt.

Get the recipe

22. Polenta Fries

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours and 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, crowd-pleaser, vegetarian
We love potatoes, but aren't these way more exciting? Don't even get us started on the tarragon-lemon aioli.

Get the recipe

23. Broiled Polenta Bites with Green Harissa

  • Time Commitment: 2 hours
  • Why We Love It: vegetarian, gluten free, crowd-pleaser
This twist on crostini won't last long on the appetizer table.

Get the recipe

24. Slow Cooker Maple Chipotle Pork with Cheesy Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 10 hours
  • Why We Love It: slow cooker recipe, high protein, crowd-pleaser
The polenta boasts pecorino Romano *and* fontina cheeses, both freshly grated for maximum silkiness.

Get the recipe

25. Cheesy Polenta with Spring Vegetables

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, vegetarian
Not only is the polenta packed with butter, cream and gouda, but it's also crowned with fresh chimichurri sauce for good measure.

Get the recipe

26. Grilled Eggplant with Greek Relish and Creamy Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: vegan, beginner-friendly, special occasion-worthy
The briny relish, teeming with kalamata olives and sherry vinegar, would also pair well with chicken, gyros, salad or yogurt.

Get the recipe

27. White Wine Braised Short Ribs with Balsamic-Mustard Marinated Vegetables over White Cheddar Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 4 hours and 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, high protein, special occasion-worthy
This recipe is beyond elegant, down to the green onion gremolata.

Get the recipe

28. Sweet Buttered Polenta Pancakes with Fresh Summer Berries

  • Time Commitment: 10 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, kid-friendly
Butter, syrup and powdered sugar will quell the kids' doubts about these unconventional pancakes.

Get the recipe

29. Blood Orange Olive Oil Polenta Cake

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 20 minutes (plus cooling time)
  • Why We Love It: gluten free, crowd-pleaser, special occasion-worthy
This olive oil-laced masterpiece is inspired by amor polenta, a cake from the town of Varese, Italy, that's made with almonds and polenta.

Get the recipe

30. Chili Con Carne Cornbread Pie

  • Time Commitment: 8 hours and 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: slow cooker recipe, make ahead, crowd-pleaser
Prep the shredded beef in advance (the Crockpot will do most of the work for you), then prepare the buttery cornbread topping before baking and serving.

Get the recipe

31. Salmon with Polenta and Warm Tomato Vinaigrette

  • Time Commitment: 45 minutes
  • Why We Love It: pescatarian, high protein
If you don't eat this summery dish in the backyard alongside a glass of vino, you're doing it wrong.

Get the recipe

32. Lobster Polenta Pizza with Sun-Dried Cherry Tomatoes

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why We Love It: beginner-friendly, special occasion-worthy, pescatarian
Roasted garlic + buttery lobster tail + mascarpone *and* fontina cheeses = your new favorite dinner. Substitute shrimp if you don't want to spring for lobster.

Get the recipe

33. Easy Jalapeño Popper Chicken Chili and Cheddar Polenta Pot Pies

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 5 minutes
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, kid-friendly, special occasion-worthy
In case you need yet another reason to buy a set of cute, single-serve baking dishes.

Get the recipe

34. Almond Cake with Pear and Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: special occasion-worthy, beginner-friendly, gluten free
The cake gets fruity flavor and undeniable moisture from a surprise ingredient: pear baby food.

Get the recipe

35. Spring Mushroom Polenta with Basil Vinaigrette

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: vegetarian, beginner-friendly
Trust us: You'll want to make double of the basil vinaigrette to use on steak, pasta, salads, grilled fish and beyond.

Get the recipe

36. Cherry Tomato Pesto Polenta with Fried Halloumi

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, crowd-pleaser, vegetarian
If the weather's warm, feel free to grill the halloumi instead of frying it. The char marks will offer nice smokiness to the plate.

Get the recipe

37. Slow Cooker Cabernet Beef Short Ribs with Mascarpone Polenta

  • Time Commitment: 10 hours
  • Why We Love It: slow cooker recipe, high protein, crowd-pleaser, special occasion-worthy
Cabernet and fresh herbs take the fork-tender meat over the top, while mascarpone cheese makes the polenta extra creamy.

Get the recipe

38. Creamy Polenta with Eggs, Chorizo and Cilantro

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, high protein, beginner-friendly
Chorizo turns this brunch gem extra savory and spicy, but you could easily swap in crumbled breakfast sausage or bacon instead.

Get the recipe

39. Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Tart with Polenta Crust

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, gluten free, vegetarian
It's just the starter for Easter dinner, if you ask us. (Just look at all that in-season asparagus.)

Get the recipe

40. Bolo de Ananás (Azores Almond Polenta Pineapple Cake)

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, dairy free, special occasion-worthy
The texture is just as drool-worthy as the flavor. Dust each slice with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Get the recipe

RELATED: 30 Birthday Cake Recipes That Are Actually Easy to Pull Off

From Around The Web