Two Kooks ยป ALL RECIPES ยป Vegetarian Recipes ยป Creamy Parmesan Polenta with Tomato Salad

Creamy Parmesan Polenta with Tomato Salad

This creamy parmesan polenta recipe topped with a vibrant tomato salad makes a a great side dish or simple vegetarian lunch. Create it from scratch or use a great shortcut.

If this is your first time making polenta, don’t be intimidated. With the step by step instructions and tips below, it’s pretty simple and straightforward.

plate of polenta covered with tomato salad and parmesan.

Soft parmesan polenta is a warm comfort food for all seasons. The tomato topping is a great paring – equally delicious in peak tomato season or in winter with high quality canned tomatoes.

The recipe only uses a few simple ingredients, but as usual, there are lots of variations you can try.

Bottom line: Creamy, comforting, cheesy polenta with a fresh herby tomato topping. Delicious two-sides-in-one! And a nice alternative to potatoes, rice or pasta.

What is polenta like?

Polenta, an Italian cuisine from Northern Italy, is essentially coarse cornmeal porridge. The texture of cooked polenta resembles soft scrambled eggs.

I love the soft, moist, creamy texture which remains even when cooled and hardened, then sliced, grilled or fried.

Polenta by itself is quite bland which makes it a perfect base for saucy toppings like stews, mushroom or vegetable ragouts and this herby tomato salad.

Ingredients- tailored to your taste

medium grained dry polenta, salt, butter, parmesan cheese.
Polenta ingredients: medium ground cornmeal, salt, butter, parmesan cheese.

Tomato salad ingredients: Canned tomatoes OR fresh tomatoes, olive oil, herbs, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes.

Cornmeal: Buy consistent grind or stoneground medium-to-coarsely-ground cornmeal. Or you can get a package labeled Polenta which will contain the correct ground cornmeal.

Tomatoes: If using fresh tomatoes in peak summer season, beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes or heirloom tomatoes are my favorites. Field tomatoes will be fine too. If using canned tomatoes, San Marzano are excellent, but again, any whole or diced tomatoes will be fine.

Vary the recipe with a few of these suggestions.

For the polenta

  • Omit the Parmesan cheese.
  • Add olive oil instead of butter in the last stage.
  • Add a couple of tablespoons of pesto.
  • For extra richness, use chicken broth, chicken stock, vegetable stock or vegetable broth instead of water.
  • You can also add extra flavor with fresh herbs, pesto, etc. 

For the tomato salad

  • Use any fresh herbs of your choice. I use what I have in the garden such as basil, oregano, chives, parsley, thyme. You can substitute with some dried herbs, but I suggest using at least one fresh herb.
  • Add a teaspoon of Balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar,
  • Other good additions are minced garlic cloves, chopped olives, a squeeze of lemon juice or capers.

Step by step instructions

Slowly whisk cornmeal into boiling water in a medium saucepan, whisking constantly to avoid lumps for 1-2 minutes.

cooked polenta in pot.
Lower heat to low to medium heat simmer and keep whisking for a few minutes until it starts to thicken. Cover and cook, whisking occasionally to prevent sticking to bottom of the pan. Total cook time is 30-40 minutes.
cooked polenta in a pot with butter and cheese added
Add a little butter and some Parmesan cheese at the end.
Gather tomato salad ingredients: San Marzano canned chopped tomatoes (or use fresh), salt, pepper, fresh herbs, lemon, olive oil
tomato herb salad in bowl
Combine in a bowl to make a tomato herb salad
plate of polenta covered with tomato salad and parmesan.
Spoon the cheesy parmesan polenta onto a plate and top with the tomato salad. Sprinkle with more parmesan cheese if you like.

For a step by step visual, check out this video by Chef John from allrecipes on how to make polenta.

Tips for cooking Polenta

Serious Eats has a detailed post on how to make polenta. Here is a summary of the key tips (with a few comments from my own experience).

Timing

  • Serious Eats believes you need 45-60 minutes to cook polenta, The longer cooking apparently deepens the flavors and makes it even creamier.
  • I find 30-35 minutes works very well. 
  • The goal is for the corn meal to absorb as much water as possible. You can add some extra water if needed to increase the cooking time. I don’t bother.

Cooking process

  • Although most recipes start with boiling water, it’s not really necessary. After the initial boil, reduce it to medium heat so that the cornmeal doesn’t pucker or splatter while cooking.
  • Shortcut: You can reduce the cooking time by soaking the cornmeal/polenta in the water for a few hours ahead of time. Then bring to a boil and go from there.

Recipe FAQs

What is the difference between polenta and cornmeal?

Polenta is the porridge-like preparation made with medium or coarsely ground cornmeal. If you see a package labeled ‘polenta’, you will know it is the right cornmeal to make polenta. Otherwise buy medium or coarse-ground cornmeal which will be the same thing.

What toppings can I put on polenta?

Here are a few great toppings for your polenta: classic basil pesto, vegan bolognsese, San Marzano tomato sauce, Chili, fresh herb sauce, mushroom ragout, a drizzle of olive oil, Israeli salad, tomato salad or roasted or grilled vegetables.

What to serve with polenta and tomato salad

Serve this creamy polenta recipe with tomato herb salad for brunch, lunch or dinner as either a main or a side dish.

Try it as a vegetarian main dish with Green Beans with Lemon-Garlic Panko Crumbs. or even simpler, microwave green beans topped with crushed nuts.

Or as the perfect side dish for beef short ribs, lemon butter herb baked trout, sous vide hamburger steak with onion gravy, marinated pork chops, lamb chops or with a savory meat sauce or beef stew.

BIG Shortcut

Cover your eyes, purists. You will NOT like this suggestion. I’m not a polenta snob so here it is.

For a super easy polenta recipe that takes less than 10 minutes, I use instant polenta (also called 1 minute polenta or quick polenta), found at your local grocery store.

This easy method is a very decent substitute for homemade polenta, especially if you add lots of parmesan cheese and butter!

Make Ahead

Polenta will harden as it cools. Restore it to a creamy smooth texture by warming it in the microwave or on the stove with some extra water, stirring until smooth.

plate of polenta covered with tomato salad and parmesan.

Love polenta?

Then you might want to try:

If you like this recipe, please leave a 5 star rating ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸin the recipe card below. And if you REALLY like it, consider a review in the comments. Thanks very much!

plate of polenta covered with tomato salad and parmesan.
Print Recipe Pin Save Recipe

Rate this recipe here

5 from 11 votes

Creamy Parmesan Polenta with Tomato Salad

This creamy parmesan polenta recipe topped with a vibrant tomato salad makes a a great side dish or simple vegetarian lunch. Create it from scratch or use a great shortcut.
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time40 minutes
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Diet: Vegetarian
Servings: 3 Main (or 6-7 Sides)
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

Polenta

  • 1 cup Polenta or Cornmeal , Note 1 and 2 (I use Bob’s Red Mill Cornmeal)
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for garnish)

Herbed Tomato Salad

  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, Note 3 and 4 (San Marzano preferred)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoon finely chopped herbs (any combination of chives, thyme, oregano, parsley, basil, etc)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes (or more to taste) – optional
  • squeeze of lemon
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • pinch of sugar

Instructions

  • MAKE POLENTA: Boil water with salt in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in polenta/cornmeal, whisking constantly to avoid lumps for 1-2 minutes. Lower heat to a simmer. Keep whisking until polenta starts to thicken, about 4-5 minutes. Cover and cook, whisking every 4-5 minutes to avoid sticking on bottom of pan. (When polenta gets thicker, switch to wooden spoon or other spoon to stir. ) Polenta is done when it's creamy, thick and not grainy. Total time for cooking should take about 30-40 minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in butter and Parmesan. Taste and add salt if needed.
  • MAKE TOMATO TOPPING: While polenta is cooking (and between stirs), drain tomatoes and squeeze them a bit to eliminate most of juices. Roughly chop and place in bowl. Add oil, herbs, salt, pepper, lemon and chili flakes (if using). Combine well. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  • SERVE: To serve family style, scoop Polenta onto a platter and top with tomatoes. Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired. Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese.

Recipe Notes

  1. Polenta/cornmeal to buy: Buy consistent grind or stoneground medium-to-coarsely-ground cornmeal. Or you can get a package labeled Polenta which will contain the correct ground cornmeal. To reduce the cooking time, soak the cornmeal/polenta in the water for a few hours ahead of time. Then bring to a boil and go from there.
  2. Variations for cooking the polenta:
    • Omit the Parmesan cheese.
    • Add olive oil instead of butter in the last stage.
    • Add a couple of tablespoons of pesto.
    • For extra richness, use chicken broth, chicken stock, vegetable stock or vegetable broth instead of water.
    • You can also add extra flavor with fresh herbs, pesto, etc.
  3. To use fresh tomatoes instead of canned:ย  You can substitute the canned tomatoes with fresh summer tomatoes like beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes or heirloom tomatoes best. Field tomatoes will be fine too. Use about 2 1/2 pounds (1.1 kg) or 4-5 medium tomatoes, drained, squeezed and chopped to yield about 3 cups/600 grams.
  4. Variations for the tomato salad
    • You can substitute some of the fresh herbs with dried herbs, but I suggest using at least one fresh herb.
    • Add a teaspoon of Balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar,
    • Other good additions are minced garlic cloves, chopped olives, a squeeze of lemon juice or capers.
  5. Make Ahead: If Polenta is made ahead, it will begin to harden. To restore to looser creaminess, add some water and rewarm on stove or in microwave, stirring as needed.
Nutrition values are estimates.ย 

Nutrition

Calories: 452kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 35mg | Sodium: 1540mg | Potassium: 710mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1060IU | Vitamin C: 30mg | Calcium: 283mg | Iron: 5mg
Tried this recipe?We’d love you to rate it above under ‘rate this recipe’ or in the comment section below. Thanks!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating