When Sharon was visiting with us a few weeks ago, she invited a friend for brunch. When I suggested we make strata, she gave me a bored shrug, but then begged me not to serve up anything too weird.
A good Southerner, I immediately thought of grits in casserole form. Everyone was a little skeptical, especially Maggy, since she knows her husband Andy is not a grits fan. (Interestingly, he loves polenta and continues to disparage grits even after being told that grits and polenta are the same.) Polenta casserole it would be. It was still corn season, so I stirred a little into the casserole and set out a jug of maple syrup for drizzling.
Despite the apprehension, we all enjoyed the baked polenta for brunch. When I suggested to Maggy and Sharon I’d also like it savory with marinara, they wholeheartedly agreed. So here’s my savory version. The smoky mozzarella and fresh rosemary, give it a meaty texture and fragrance.
Smoky Baked Polenta is a great dish for a crowd of vegetarians and omnivores. With a spiral cut ham and a maple drizzle it works at brunch. Served with red sauce alongside a platter of sausages, it works for dinner too. It’s also simple and inexpensive, making it a perfect meatless Monday entrée.
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
- 2 cups polenta (not instant!)
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Ground black pepper
- 6 large eggs, beaten
- 8 ounces smoked mozzarella, cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring 2 quarts of water to boil. Whisk in salt, rosemary, and polenta; cook until sputtery thick, about 10 minutes. Whisk in Parmesan cheese, butter, and several grinds of pepper. Working quickly, whisk in eggs a little at a time. Reserving a handful of cubes for the top, stir in mozzarella and before it melts, turn polenta into a greased 13- by 9-inch casserole dish.
- Sprinkle remaining cubes of cheese over casserole. Bake uncovered until slightly puffed and cheese is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes to set.
- Meanwhile heat oil and garlic over medium-high heat. When garlic starts to sizzle and turn golden, add tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.
- Spoon baked polenta into pasta plates with a little tomato sauce spooned alongside.