I was fascinated by polenta when I first tasted it at a rustic cabin restaurant in the Italian Alps. I ate forkful after forkful of the molten layering of cornmeal, mountain cheese, local sausage, and tomato sauce, trying to figure out how it was made. Soon after, polenta made its way into restaurants in the US, and during my long tenure as food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, I got to sample polenta in many different recipes.
But, I didn’t fully appreciate the versatility of polenta until I began experimenting with my newly imposed gluten-free diet. It was then that I realized polenta makes a great replacement for many wheat-based staples- bread, pasta, croutons, crostini, and even pizza crust. This discovery added new satisfaction to my meals.
The recipe here is my quick twist on traditional polenta, which can take up to 45 minutes of almost constant stirring to prepare. I was determined to find a way to make polenta effortlessly so I could enjoy it frequently. I played around until I came up with this creamy, microwave version. The key is using medium-grind cornmeal, rather than coarser ground polenta, which requires more than three times as long to cook.
I prefer whole grain cornmeal for its fuller flavor, and I am hooked on Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Stone Ground Cornmeal. I purchase it at Whole Foods, and it can be ordered on the Bob’s Red Mill website.
Now I serve sunny side up eggs atop Parmesan flavored polenta for indulgent Sunday morning breakfasts. On a busy weeknight, I can make a quick, juicy chicken and fennel ragú and ladle it over a big spoonful of polenta seasoned with marjoram. If I have leftover polenta, I cool it and then cut into cubes to use as croutons in soups and salads. Earlier this fall, I heaped sautéed chanterelles atop crispy polenta triangles. And, I frequently make crisp but tender pizza crusts with polenta.
These recipes, and more, are in my upcoming book, Weeknight Gluten Free (due out in March). But in the next few days I will post a recipe for scallops in a fragrant tomato sauce to serve atop this polenta, flavored with thyme. It makes an agreeable, and easy, weeknight dinner.
Creamy Microwave Polenta
- ½ cup Gluten-free medium-grind cornmeal, I like Bob’s Red Mill
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2-4 tablespoons Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, optional
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, marjoram, chives
- Mix 2 cups water, the cornmeal, oil, salt and a generous amount of pepper in a medium size microwave-safe bowl. Place in the microwave and cook at the high setting for 5 minutes. Stir thoroughly, then microwave at the high setting for 5 more minutes. Stir well. Mix in the cheese, if using, and the herbs. Adjust the seasoning and serve right away.