Creamy smooth polenta gets a kick with cheese and ripe tomatoes bursting with flavour. Parmesan Polenta with Herbed Tomatoes makes a great summer meal or side.
I call this summer comfort food although you can, of course, serve it all year round using high quality canned tomatoes like San Marzano. In peak tomato season (I can hardly wait), you can obviously use fresh ripe tomatoes for this dish. Beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes would be my choice.
If you’ve never made Polenta, don’t be intimidated. With the tipsbelow, it’s quite simple and straightforward. Polenta is essentially cornmeal porridge, originating from Northern Italy. It is really a blank slate for saucy toppings like stews, mushroom or vegetable ragout and tomato salad. You can also boost the flavor of the Polenta itself with Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, etc. I love the soft, moist, creamy texture which is maintained when cooled and hardened, then sliced, grilled or fried.
Parmesan Polenta with Herbed Tomatoes can be served for brunch, lunch or dinner as both a main or a side dish. Try it as a main with Green Beans with Lemon-Garlic Panko Crumbs or as a side with Easy Maple Lime Salmon.
Tips for Making Parmesan Polenta
(from Serious Eats)
- Timing: Serious Eats believes you need 45-60 minutes to cook polenta, but I find 30-35 works very well. The longer cooking apparently deepens the flavors and makes it even creamier. The goal is for the cornmeal to absorb as much water as possible. You can add some extra water if needed to increase the cooking time. I don’t bother.
- Texture: The texture of cooked polenta should resemble soft scrambled eggs.
- Type: Which polenta/cornmeal should you use? Consistent grind or stoneground are both fine.
- Heat: Although most recipes start with boiling water, it’s not really necessary. After the intial boil, keep the heat low enough 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.
- Video: Here’s a video by Chef John from allrecipes on how to make polenta.
Tailor To Your Taste
- Omit the Parmesan cheese in the Polenta.
- Add olive oil instead of butter to the Polenta in the last stage.
- For tomatoes – add any herbs of your choice; add a teaspoon of Balsamic vinegar; add a pinch of sugar if needed; add minced garlic; or add some chopped olives or capers.
Make Ahead Parmesan Polenta
Polenta will harden as it cools. Restore to its creamy smooth texture by warming it in the microwave or on the stove with some extra water, stirring until smooth.
Parmesan Polenta with Herbed Tomatoes
- 1 cup Polenta or Cornmeal (I use Bob's Red Mill Cornmeal)
- 4 1/2 cup water
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for garnish)
- 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes NOTE 1 (San Marzano preferred)
- 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp finely chopped herbs (any combination of chives, thyme, rosemary, parsley, basil)
- 1/4 tsp red chili flakes (or more to taste) - optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- MAKE POLENTA: Boil water with salt in 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 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 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 olive oil if desired. Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese. 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.
- Canned tomato substitute: You can substitute the canned tomatoes with fresh tomatoes if they are at their summer best in peak season. Use about 2 1/2 pounds (4-5 medium tomatoes), drained, squeezed and chopped to yield about 3 cups.
Other tomato recipe you might like: