Shortly before Thanksgiving, I helped out with a little dinner at the Vischer Ferry General Store. We made salad with orange-shallot vinaigrette, peasant bread, sherry vinegar chicken and polenta, which I had forgotten how much I love. We roasted the polenta in the oven using Paula Wolfert’s recipe, which I had heard about over the years, but, for whatever reason, namely Mark Bittman’s Polenta Without Fear, had never made.
Friends, roasting polenta in the oven is a game changer — it frees up your cooktop and, more important, YOU. While the polenta bubbles away in the oven, you can sauté greens or poach eggs or steam broccoli or
take a bath give the kids a bath, etc. No need to worry if the polenta is sticking to the pot, running out of liquid—in the oven it cooks slowly and evenly.
This is how you make it: whisk together polenta, water, and milk with a pad of butter and a pinch of salt; throw the pot in the oven; remove it about an hour later. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and this time of year, I could eat it with everything: slow-cooker beans, braised short ribs, sherry chicken, roasted mushrooms—anything that produces a good amount of sauce.
Recently, I haven’t felt like cooking—not sure why … this never happens—but I can always muster the energy to throw a pot of polenta in the oven and poach a few eggs. A side of sautéed greens or, as here, caramelized cabbage makes the meal feel complete, though it’s no slouch without it.
Friends, what, if anything, do you cook when you don’t feel like cooking?
Adapted from this Fine Cooking recipe by Paula Wolfert.
Oven-baking polenta is game changing: just throw it in the oven, give it a stir 40 minutes later, bake it for 20 minutes more. For years, I’ve made Mark Bittman’s Polenta without Fear, which is also simple, but I prefer the hands-off nature of the oven-baked version.
I love the combination of polenta with a poached egg and a drizzle of truffle oil. A side of sautéed greens makes the meal feel more complete. Here I’ve served the polenta with another Paula Wolfert/Fine Cooking recipe for caramelized cabbage, which takes longer than quickly sautéing greens, but which is a good one to know should you find yourself overloaded with cabbage, as I found myself a few weeks ago.
Re water: If you use 5 cups of water, it will take longer for the polenta to thicken up, but in the end, it will be ultra creamy and delicious. Four cups still yields a creamy polenta, and it will allow the polenta to thicken more quickly. You can use all water if you don’t want to use any milk.
- butter for greasing
- 1 cup medium-coarse or coarse cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
- 4 to 5 cups water, see notes
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- eggs for poaching
- splash vinegar
- shaved parmesan, for serving, optional
- sea salt, pepper, truffle oil for serving, optional
- sautéed greens alongside, optional
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a large ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven. Pour in the cornmeal, water, milk, butter, and salt, and stir with a fork or whisk until blended. The mixture will not look emulsified.
- Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Stir the polenta, taste, add salt if needed, and bake for another 10 to 20 minutes or longer—until it reaches the desired consistency you like. Remove from the oven, stir, and serve immediately or cover and keep warm until you are ready to serve.
- To poach eggs: bring a shallow saucepan filled with water to a boil. Crack eggs into individual ramekins or small bowls. Add a splash of vinegar to the water. Lower the heat so that the water is barely simmering—it should barely be moving. Slowly lower each ramekin to the water and pour out each egg. Set a timer for 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to lift egg out to test for doneness—the whites should be completely set; the yolk should feel soft to touch. This will take practice—after you make one or two, you will know by touch if the egg is done to your liking. I typically poach eggs for 4 to 5 minutes, but the length of time changes depending on how many eggs I am cooking at one time. Note, too, that you may have to adjust the heat level to keep the water at a bare simmer. When the eggs are done, transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain briefly.
- To serve: Spoon polenta into bowls. Top with shavings of parmesan, if desired, and top each mound of polenta with a poached egg. Season with a pinch of sea salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with truffle oil, if desired. Serve with greens on the side, if desired.
Oven-roasted polenta with slow cooker beans: