Polenta is an ancient Northern Italian dish consisting of ground yellow maize. It is also known as “cornmeal mush” and was a common meal for Italian working-class families back in the day. Today, this golden mush is gaining popularity in the United States and is offered in many fancy grocery stores and restaurants across the country. The truth is that polenta is super easy to prepare, quite versatile, and can make an original, delicious and filling gluten-free appetizer or entrée. Once you cook it, which only takes a minute, you can fry it, bake it, or just top it with your favorite ingredients and serve it soft. You can accompany it with beans, vegetables, vegan meats, and tomato sauce or simply serve it as a side dish with drizzled olive oil and fresh ground pepper. This recipe, which includes meatless meatballs, baby portobella mushrooms, stewed tomatoes and béchamel sauce, makes a solid and super tasty meal for 3-4 people. We hope you enjoy it!
- Tomato sauce:
- Olive oil
- 2 minced garlic cloves and 1/2 small diced onion
- 1/4 of a red bell pepper, diced
- Chili flakes
- A bag of vegan meatballs (or ground meat or sliced Italian sausage): Nate’s, Gardein, Quorn, or other
- 1 can of stewed tomatoes
- 1 can of tomato sauce
- Baby portobella mushrooms–to taste
- A teaspoon of sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: fresh chopped basil or parsley (to garnish the casserole once baked)
- Béchamel sauce:
- 1/4 cup of corn starch
- 1 1/2 cup of rice milk
- A small square of Earth Balance butter (or olive oil)
- Salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
- 1 1/3 cup of instant polenta
- 4 cups of water (or vegetable broth or rice milk)
- 1 small square of Earth Balance butter (or olive oil)
- 1 vegetable bouillon cube (if you use vegetable broth instead of water, do not use the vegetable cube)
- Tomato sauce: Place a pot or skillet on the stove on medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, add some oil, chili flakes, diced garlic, and diced onions and let sizzle for a couple of minutes. Then add the meatballs and the bell pepper (you can also use meatless ground or sliced vegan Italian sausages). Once the vegetables start browning, add the can of stewed tomatoes and the can of tomato sauce, salt, sugar, and pepper. Mix well, cover with a lid, and let cook for 15 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms, cover and let simmer for an additional 20 minutes. If you used meatballs, you can cut them in halves or quarters once the sauce is ready.
- Béchamel sauce: You can cook the béchamel sauce in a pot on the stove or in a bowl in the microwave. In a pot or microwave safe bowl, mix the corn starch with a little bit of water until you get a uniform paste (without lumps). Add the rice milk, butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg, mix well, and start cooking on medium heat. Stir frequently to avoid lumps from forming and to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pot or bowl (if microwaving, pause and stir every 45-60”). Once the sauce starts thickening, turn heat to low and stir more frequently. If necessary, you can use a whisk or a food processor to get rid of the lumps. Once you obtain a creamy thick sauce, remove from heat.
- Polenta: In a medium pot, pour 4 cups of water (or vegetable broth or rice milk) and a vegetable bullion cube and bring to a boil (if you use vegetable broth, do not use the vegetable cube). Remove from heat and, while gently stirring with a wooden spoon, pour polenta in the boiling water. Add vegan butter and mix well. You will get a creamy polenta consistency that will harden as it cools off.
- Put it together!: In a medium glass or ceramic casserole dish, place a 1-inch layer of polenta, then a generous layer of tomato sauce, and finally, half of the béchamel sauce. Then add the rest of the polenta and spread evenly. Pour the rest of the béchamel sauce and top with more tomato sauce. Drizzle the top with olive oil, cover with foil, and bake polenta at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Then remove the foil and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool off, garnish with fresh basil, and serve hot.