Summer Vegetable Polenta Bake

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Being a cook who is fond of a one-dish meal, it seems all too natural to combine the abundance of summer vegetables with the comfort of creamy polenta. Top it all off with melted cheese, a sprinkling of pine nuts and fresh herbs, broil it together in the oven and what you?ve got is something delicious to satisfy the whole table, not to mention you?ve only got one pot to clean!

Really, this is such a simple recipe. It has very few steps and its hard to mess it up, and even more importantly, its hard to not love it. Just be sure to use Instant Polenta to streamline the steps. I know, I know. I cringe when I hear ?Instant? anything, but after doing some research, instant polenta is just pre-cooked dehydrated polenta that has been ground down for faster cooking. It has the same ingredients as regular stone-ground polenta, but with the ease of a 3-4 minute cook time. Be sure to add the polenta slowly, whisking constantly while adding, to ensure no lumps form.

Try substituting different vegetables, depending what is in season. Corn, lima beans, bell peppers, onions, more would all be tasty. Let me know what you try and what you think about your success!

Summer Vegetable Polenta Bake

serves 4-6

*It is very important to use Instant Polenta. Do not substitute with pre-cooked polenta (bought in a tube). If you choose to use regular stone-ground polenta, cook in a separate pot following manufacturer?s instructions, then add to skillet at Step 4 and proceed with recipe.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1/2in. pieces
  • 2 small zucchini or summer squash (or 1 of each), trimmed and cut into 1/2in. pieces
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup instant polenta*
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 cup fontina cheese, shredded (Mozzarella or Monterey Jack can be substituted)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1. Place oven rack about six-inches from broiler. Preheat broiler.

2. *Heat the 1/4 cup oil in a 12-in. cast-iron skillet (Dutch oven can be substituted, as long as its oven-safe) over medium-high heat until oil shimmers. Working in two batches, add eggplant and squash, along with 1/4 tsp salt. Stirring occasionally, cook mixture until it begins to brown, about 6-7 minutes. Reduce the heat and continue to cook until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. * Remove vegetables from skillet with slotted spoon and transfer to bowl. Repeat from * to * with other half of vegetables. Return all vegetables, and their accumulated juices, to skillet.

3. Stir garlic and red pepper flakes to vegetables and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in cherry tomatoes and cook until tomatoes are just beginning to wilt, about 4-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to bowl and wipe skillet clean with paper towel.

4. Add water to now empty skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in 1 tsp salt and very slowly whisk in instant polenta. Reduce heat to medium-low and whisk constantly until polenta becomes very thick, about 4 minutes. Off the heat, stir in Parmesan.

5. Smooth polenta into an even layer in skillet, and carefully spread vegetable mixture on top of polenta. Distribute toasted pine nuts over skillet, then sprinkle with cheese (this will keep the pine nuts from burning). Broil until the cheese is melted and beginning to bubble, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

As always, eat well!


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