Cooking With Confidence
Polenta
Economical, Healthy, Side Dishes, Spicy, Vegetarian

Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce

by Nick

I was kind of shocked by last week’s poll winner. Not sure why but I just didn’t expect polenta to make a huge wave. I guess that’s because I always assume that people underestimated polenta’s potential.

The voting Macheesmo readers seem to be intrigued by it though. And I must say that I was also. I’ve never cooked polenta like this before so this was all new territory for me. This was my final result!

Making the polenta

I was really impressed with the method of making this polenta, but I have to admit that the flavor was a bit lacking for me. I think if I made it again, I’d add some chopped herbs or maybe some jalapenos or maybe even bacon to it to kick it up a notch. It kind of, well, tasted like cornmeal.

Yield
Serves 8.
Prep Time
Total Time

Just a moment please...

Print Recipe Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Polenta:
  • 8 Cups water
  • 5 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Teaspoons salt
  • 2 Cups polenta (coarse cornmeal)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce:
  • 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes, with puree
  • 1/4 Cup pine nuts
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 Teaspoon crushed red pepper (I doubled this to a full teaspoon.)
  • 1/2 Cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/3 Cup dry white wine
  • 1 Teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Prepare Polenta one day in advance of serving.
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) In baking dish, combine water, olive oil, and salt. Slowly whisk in cornmeal.

3) Bake this at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

4) Remove dish from oven, add a fair amount of pepper and then stir it all together. Make sure that it all has an even consistency. Use a whisk to spread out.

5) Bake another 50 minutes to an hour in the oven to get thick, stirring every 20 minutes to make sure the polenta is evenly distributed.

6) After the second hour, pull it out and smooth over the polenta with a spatula so it is nice and smooth.

7) Let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours until it becomes very firm.

Prepare sauce the day of serving.
1) Blend a cup of your tomatoes with pine nuts.

2) Heat oil in a large pan and then add onions, garlic, fennel seed and red pepper.

3) Cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.

4) Add the rest of your crushed tomatoes, the wine, the oregano, pine nut and tomato puree, and half of the basil. Stir this all together and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper.

5) Cut polenta into triangles.

6) Heat up a Tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. When it’s hot, add your polenta. Brown each side 7 minutes or until crispy.

7) Serve the polenta with sauce!

From the January 2010 Bon Appétit.

If you haven’t made polenta before, it starts with a coarse cornmeal. You can buy this at most supermarkets these days I think. If you can’t find it, you can definitely substitute normal yellow cornmeal.

Polenta raw

Artsy cornmeal.

The one thing about this recipe is that it calls for a 15X10X2 glass baking dish. Turns out I don’t have one of those which I only noticed right before I was getting ready to cook. I just used my normal 13X9 baking dish. After it was combined and cooked for a bit, I took out 1 cup of kind of cooked polenta from my dish so it didn’t end up too thick.

To start, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In your baking dish, combine your water, olive oil, and salt. Then slowly whisk in your cornmeal. It’s not really important at this point that everything is mixed perfectly. It will be very watery – basically a soup.

This was mine:

polenta soup

Honestly, I was skeptical

Bake this at 350 degrees for 1 hour. If you’re using the wrong size dish, like I did, you can either go with extra thick polenta or scoop out a bit at this point. When your dish comes out of the oven, add a fair amount of pepper and then stir it all together. Make sure that it all has an even consistency. I used a whisk to spread mine out.

thick polenta

Whoa.

This will most likely need another 50 minutes to an hour in the oven to get thick enough, but at this point, pull it out after every 20 minutes and stir it again to make sure the polenta is evenly distributed.

After the second hour, pull it out and smooth over the polenta with a spatula so it is nice and smooth. Then let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours until it becomes very firm.

The Day Before

If you are halfway competent at math, you might notice that we are at 4 hours total time just for making the polenta right now. So guess what… do that the night before you actually want to eat the stuff. In fact, you could do it a few days in advance if you wanted, just store it in the fridge until you need it. If you are making the polenta the same day you intent to eat the dinner, you should probably plan for a weekend unless you like a LATE dinner.

The Sauce

This sauce is actually pretty straightforward for a tomato sauce and even though it’s labeled as “spicy” I doubled the amount of red pepper in my version and it was still only mildly spicy.

Anyway, you’ll need to start with some onions, garlic, red pepper, and the secret ingredient: fennel seed. It’s a subtle thing that you can leave out if you don’t have any on hand.

sauce ingredients

Basics.

To start, take a cup of your tomatoes and blend them up with the pine nuts. I was a bit skeptical on this step and you could skip it, but it ensures that the pine nuts are really smoothly incorporated in the sauce which is nice.

You’ll also need a bunch of basil!

More ingredients

More sauce stuff.

Start by heating your oil in a large pan and then add your onions, garlic, fennel seed and red pepper. Cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Then add the rest of your crushed tomatoes, the wine, the oregano, your pine nut and tomato puree, and half of your basil. Stir this all together and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. It should reduce slightly and smell lovely. Be sure to taste it for salt and pepper. It’ll probably need a good pinch of both.

Sauce done

Beautiful.

Searing the polenta

As your sauce simmers, you can get your polenta ready. After a long night in the fridge, it should be very firm. I cut mine into triangles, but you could do whatever shape you wanted. Chop up the pieces you need and stick the rest back in the icebox!

polenta cut

Well that firmed up nicely.

It’s important to sear the polenta because it takes on almost a slimy quality as it sets up. Some high heat in a pan transforms the mild sliminess into a very crispy exterior.

Heat up a Tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. When it’s hot, add your polenta. You’re looking for a very crispy and slightly browned crust. Mine needed about 7 minutes per side to get really nice and crispy.

Then serve the polenta over a nice portion of the sauce!

Finished dish

Pretty good stuff.

I’d never really had a dish like this before and it was definitely interesting. It was almost like a pasta dish but instead of pasta there was these hearty polenta slices. My only complaint was that the polenta, on its own, was a bit bland. There just wasn’t a lot of flavor to it.

I should’ve went with my gut and spiced it up a bit, but you can benefit from my mistake! If you make this, experiment with the polenta flavors. The texture is spot on, but it needs some help getting to Flavortown.

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14 comments on “Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce

  1. I *love* polenta!! There are so many ways to eat it! One of my favs is soft polenta with black beans and salsa…for breakfast :) It's true that polenta by itself doesn't taste like much more than cornmeal, but that's why it's such an awesome base. I wrote a post about my Polenta with Mushrooms and Egg a while ago. Mmmm…dee-lish-ous! If you don't mind:
    http://bakeoff-flunkie.blogspot.com/2009/10/polen

  2. I just noticed how long it took you to make your polenta…that is insane. Polenta should take 5 minutes in a sauce pan. If you want it to be firm, then you pour it into your glass pan, let it cool, and put it in the fridge. You were totally betrayed by your recipe…Boo! :(

      1. Hey Nick, do you remember how Tiffiny Felix cooked her Polenta and how long it took as that link doesn’t work anymore. :( Booo. I don’t want it to take 4 hours.

  3. I made polenta earlier this week! I went with soft polenta though, and cooked it on the stove before baking it in the oven (it took less than an hour for this). I also used vegetable stock instead of water, and added some onion and a little garlic, sauteed before adding the stock and polenta, and after the polenta was finished in the oven I added about a 1/4 cup parmesan. Mine was very flavorful, which was great since I did not have a sauce for it.

  4. This is about your comment that the polenta tasted a little boring. I know (as you say) that there are many polenta enthusiasts out there, and I don't understand the phenomenon. I have never eaten polenta that doesn't taste like caked gruel, which makes me think maybe I've never had polenta as it's supposed to be made. Any thoughts on this? What would the ideal polenta be like? Herby or spicy, as you suggested? Or is there a way to make a simple, more minimalist polenta excellent?

  5. Mmm… I'm gonna make this with humitas (http://recetasdelujo.com/3884/humitas-2/). My fiancee's mom makes the most amazing humitas and she just made about 200 of them yesterday (they're a lot of work so making so many makes it "vale la pena"). They're similar to polenta, but way more amazing. They're best eaten plain with some coffee, but i'll see if this sauce doesn't ruin a near perfect food. Hopefully it can spice things up a bit (like i said theres so many of them, a little variety will be good). Thanks for the idea, nick.

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