Ah, polenta. It’s creamy and comforting, but so often misunderstood. Stand over the pot, stirring, for hours on end? No thank you. Enter this hands-off method for creamy oven polenta from Sheela Prakash’s cookbook, Mediterranean Every Day. Suddenly, the cheesy side dish is a weeknight staple.
“For years, I labored over the traditional stovetop approach,” Prakash writes, “and for every time it came out perfectly, there were at least a couple times it would end up gummy and cement-like. Cooking polenta in the oven isn’t conventional but it’s the only method I’ve found that produces the most consistent results. It also happens to be the most hands-off approach: Slip a baking dish of polenta and water in the oven and return less than an hour later to find perfectly creamy results—no standing over the pot, stirring, required.”
That's not the only perk: “While the polenta does its thing in the oven, focus your energy on making the topping of your choice on the stove.” We’re partial to crispy mushrooms or tender sautéed greens, but this is your masterpiece.
Reprinted with permission from Mediterranean Every Day: Simple, Inspired Recipes for Feel-Good Food, Copyright © 2020 by Sheela Prakash. Published by The Harvard Common Press, an Imprint of The Quarto Group.
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed for coating the dish
1 cup (163g) polenta (coarse-ground, not instant or quick-cooking)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups (1 L) water
½ cup (28g) packed fresh finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter, cubed
1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Drizzle some olive oil into an 8-by-8-inch or other 2-quart baking dish and use your hands to coat the bottom and sides of the dish with oil. Add the polenta, salt and several grinds of black pepper to the dish. Pour in the water and whisk to combine.
3. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and whisk in the cheese and butter cubes (the butter doesn’t need to be completely melted). Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, until all the liquid is absorbed and the polenta is creamy, 8 to 10 minutes more. Whisk once or twice more and serve immediately with the topping of your choice.
Note: It’s important to use the right type of polenta here, but shopping for it can be unnecessarily complicated if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Bypass instant or quick-cooking polenta, as well as the pre-cooked tubes. Instead, look for coarse-ground polenta. It’s easy to find at Italian markets, but if you’re shopping for it at larger grocery stores, Bob’s Red Mill is likely to be the brand you’ll come across, although they label their polenta as “Corn Grits Polenta.”