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Creamy Polenta with Tomato Herb Salad

Creamy Polenta topped with a robust tomato herb salad makes a fabulous lunch or side. Summer comfort food!

I love this dish in the summer. You can, of course, serve it all year round using high quality canned tomatoes like San Marzano as pictured above. In peak tomato season, I use fresh ripe beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes.

If you’ve never made polenta, don’t be intimidated. With the tips below, it’s pretty 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 ragouts and tomato salad.

Boost the flavor of the polenta itself with Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, pesto, etc.  I love the soft, moist, creamy texture which is even maintained when cooled and hardened, then sliced, grilled or fried.

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 as a side with lemon butter herb baked trout or Easy Maple Lime Salmon.

Tips for how to make Polenta

Here’s a brief summary of tips from Serious Eats.

Timing:

    • Serious Eats believes you need 45-60 minutes to cook polenta, but I find 30-35 minutes 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 initial 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:

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

Tailor To Your Taste

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 the tomato salad
    • Use any herbs of your choice. I use what I have in the garden such as basil, oregano, chives, parsley, thyme.
    • Add a teaspoon of Balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar,
    • Other good additions are minced garlic, chopped olives or capers.

Instead of a tomato herb salad, you can top your polenta with:

BIG Shortcut

  • Cover your eyes, Purists. You will NOT like this suggestion. But I’m not a polenta snob so here here it is. When I want to get a quick meal on the table in less than 10 minutes, I use instant (or 1 minute) polenta. Directions are on the package. It’s a very decent substitute if you add lots of parmesan cheese and butter!

Make Ahead

  • 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.
cooked polenta in a pot
Whisk cornmeal into boiling water and stir occasionally until smooth.
cooked polenta in a pot with butter and cheese added
Stir in butter and Parmesan cheese at the end.
chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon, herbs
Gather tomato salad ingredients: San Marzano canned chopped tomatoes (or use fresh), salt, pepper, fresh herbs, lemon, olive oil
tomato herb salad in a bowl
Combine in a bowl to make a tomato herb salad

Creamy polenta on a plate with tomato herb salad Creamy polenta on a plate with tomato herb salad with piece cut off showing inside

plate of polenta topped with tomato herb salad f
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5 from 4 votes

Creamy Polenta with Tomato Herb Salad

Creamy Polenta topped with a robust tomato herb salad makes a fabulous lunch or side. Summer comfort food!
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Vegetarian
Servings: 3 Main (or 6-7 Sides)
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

Polenta

  • 1 cup Polenta or Cornmeal (I use Bob's Red Mill Cornmeal)
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for garnish)

Herbed Tomatoes

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

Instructions

  • 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, 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.

Notes

  1. To use fresh tomatoes instead of canned:  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.
  2. 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. 

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Creamy Polenta with Tomato Herb Salad
Amount Per Serving
Calories 452 Calories from Fat 207
% Daily Value*
Fat 23g35%
Saturated Fat 9g56%
Cholesterol 35mg12%
Sodium 1540mg67%
Potassium 710mg20%
Carbohydrates 50g17%
Fiber 8g33%
Sugar 7g8%
Protein 14g28%
Vitamin A 1060IU21%
Vitamin C 30mg36%
Calcium 283mg28%
Iron 5mg28%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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