Baked Parmesan Polenta

4.5 from 23 votes
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Simple and versatile Parmesan Baked Polenta pairs well with so many of your family’s favorite meals. It only takes four ingredients and a little stirring to make this easy and naturally gluten free side dish turn out perfectly every time. We’ve been enjoying it in our house for years!

Why You’ll Love Baked Polenta

  • Cuisine Inspiration: Italian
  • Primary Cooking Method: Stovetop, Oven
  • Dietary Info: Gluten-free, Egg-free, Dairy-free option, Vegetarian option
  • Skill Level: Easy

When you are tired of the same old baked potatoes or rice, try polenta for an easy gluten free side dish. Some people like creamy polenta that you can scoop onto a plate or in a bowl. But my family loves these more firm baked polenta squares. It’s easy to prepare and perfect with some pot roast, chicken parmesan, or just topped with pasta sauce. Here’s why it’ll become a staple side dish you can pull out of your back pocket:

  • Quick preparation. The total cooking time for this baked polenta may seem long. But while you do have to be paying attention and stirring for the 15 minutes it is on the stove, once you pop it in the oven to get nice and golden you can turn your attention to the rest of the meal.
  • Simple ingredient list. It uses just four budget-friendly ingredients that you can easily keep on hand in your pantry. It is also versatile in how you prepare and flavor it.
  • Can be made in advance. You can definitely prepare parmesan polenta ahead of time. In fact, I think it turns out better when you’ve let it chill before you bake it in the oven.
  • Naturally gluten free. Yes, all of the ingredients, including the cornmeal, are naturally gluten free. Just be sure to read the labels on the package, as some brands process cornmeal on shared equipment with wheat ingredients.
pie server lifting a square of baked polenta from a glass pan

Baked Polenta Ingredients

Yes, as I said, you only need four basic pantry ingredients to make this polenta with parmesan. Here’s a quick overview, plus ideas if you need to make a substitution or try to flavor it a different way. The full quantities and detailed instructions are listed in the recipe card at the bottom of the post.

  • Chicken stock or broth: The kind from a box is perfectly fine, wish I recommend over canned broth. Also, a low sodium variety is preferred so you can control the level of salt.
  • Kosher salt: Omit this if you are not using a low sodium broth.
  • Cornmeal: I usually use the same cornmeal as I use to make cornbread, which is medium-grind cornmeal. You can also purchase a package specifically labeled as polenta.
  • Grated parmesan cheese: Since this is the primary flavor in this recipe, I like to use a good quality parmesan or even grate it myself.

Variations

  • Make it meatless. As I mentioned earlier, you can use chicken broth, but vegetable broth is great to make it vegetarian-friendly. Skip the parmesan for a vegan option.
  • Use different cheese. Swap the Parmesan for Romano or Asiago when you make baked polenta. You can even try cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Swiss.
  • Add fresh or dried herbs. Dried herbs like oregano or Italian seasoning can go in with the cornmeal. Or add fresh herbs such as parsley or dill with the cheese. You can even add spices like chili powder, paprika, dried mustard, or red pepper flakes.
  • Skip the baking. Once you know the technique for cooking polenta, you can simply spoon it onto your dish after cooking it on the stove. You can even stir in some milk and butter to make it creamy. Or turn it into Polenta Waffles.
square of polenta with parmesan on top on a white diner plate

Tips for the Best Baked Polenta

Here are a few things to remember for perfect polenta:
  • Keep stirring. When it first starts simmering, you may not need to stir constantly, but once it begins to thicken, you’ll need to stay close to the stove. It will start to bubble and spurt, and as it gets thick it will start to stick to the pot. Stirring constantly at this point will release the steam and prevent it from caking onto the sides of the pot.
  • Use the right tools. I like to start with a whisk, then switch to one of these heat-proof spatulas once the polenta starts to get too thick to whisk. It is also great for spreading the sticky polenta into the pan, especially if you coat it with a bit of oil or cooking spray. That makes it super easy to spread the thick polenta in the baking dish and get a nice, even layer without it sticking to everything.
  • Cook it long enough. You really want to make sure you give it enough time to get very thick. When you pull a spatula through the cooked polenta, it should briefly hold its shape. That is how you know it will form nice squares when it is baked and sliced, even if you don’t have time to cool it before you spread it in the pan and pop it in the oven.
silver serving spatula holding a square of baked polenta

Common Questions

What exactly is polenta?

Polenta is a dish from Northern Italy that involves cooking any coarse-ground grain in liquid until it becomes soft like a porridge. While it typically refers to the finished dish and can be made from rice, buckwheat, or other grains, traditionally it is made from ground corn or cornmeal.

Most often you’ll find it cooked until it has a thick, creamy consistency, and you can spoon it into a bowl or on a plate and enjoy it immediately. But if you cook it longer and/or allow it to cool, it becomes firm so that you can cut it into squares or even other shapes. The cooled polenta can be baked in a casserole dish, as in the recipe, cut into squares, and served. Or you can cut it while cold and bake or fry it for an even more crispy exterior.

Is polenta the same as cornmeal?

People often assume polenta and cornmeal are one and the same. While most polenta is made from cornmeal, it does technically refer to the finished dish. If you buy a package labeled as polenta, it is usually made from a different variety of corn and has a bit coarser grind. But a standard package of medium-grind cornmeal works perfectly to make polenta.

Is polenta gluten free?

Since polenta is made from corn, it is naturally gluten free, as you’ll learn in my article Is Corn Gluten Free?. However, many companies will process it in the same facility as wheat or other gluten-containing grains. Therefore, there is a risk of cross-contamination which brands will often note on their packaging. I typically used gluten free cornmeal from Bob’s Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills.

baked polenta cut into squares in a baking dish with one lifted with a serving spatula

Storing and Reheating Leftovers

Wrap leftover baked polenta in plastic wrap or transfer it to a storage container, then refrigerate for up to 3 to 4 days. You can reheat it in the microwave or put it back in the oven at 350°F for about 10 minutes until hot. Or you can cut the chilled and now firm polenta and use it to make Polenta Croutons or Polenta Fries.

Make it in Advance

You can prepare the polenta in advance, spread it in the pan, and refrigerate. It can be chilled for a half hour, several hours, or overnight. Then just sprinkle the parmesan cheese and bake right before serving. It may need an extra 5 minutes or so in the oven.

squares of polenta with chicken tenders on a white diner plate

What to Serve with Baked Polenta

Polenta is such a versatile side dish. You can serve it with roasts, pulled meats or grilled chicken or steak. It’s also delicious when you top it with your favorite pasta sauces. Or simply top it with roasted veggies for a meatless meal. Here are some ideas:

baked polenta cut into squares in a baking dish with one lifted with a serving spatula
4.5 from 23 votes

Parmesan Baked Polenta

Simple and versatile Parmesan Baked Polenta pairs well with so many of your family's favorite meals. It only takes four ingredients and a little stirring to make this easy and naturally gluten free side dish turn out perfectly every time. We've been enjoying it in our house for years!
Servings: 9 squares

Equipment

  • Medium saucepan
  • 9-inch square baking pan

Ingredients

  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken stock or broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal or polenta
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray a 9-inch square glass baking dish with cooking spray or lightly coat with olive oil.
  • In a medium saucepan, bring the stock and salt to a gentle simmer. While whisking, slowly pour in the cornmeal.
  • Continue to simmer, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until very thick and almost firm. Stir in 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.
  • Spread in the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining 2 Tablespoons of parmesan cheese over the top.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

Notes

You can prepare the polenta in advance, spread it in the pan, and refrigerate. Then just sprinkle the parmesan cheese and bake right before serving. It may need an extra 5 minutes or so in the oven.
Nutrition Facts
Parmesan Baked Polenta
Amount Per Serving (1 square)
Calories 95 Calories from Fat 18
% Daily Value*
Fat 2g3%
Saturated Fat 1g5%
Cholesterol 3mg1%
Sodium 204mg9%
Potassium 129mg4%
Carbohydrates 14g5%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 5g10%
Vitamin A 29IU1%
Calcium 41mg4%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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