I’ve heard tell you can have Polenta without baking it. I’ve never done so. There’s something about the texture that just doesn’t sit well with me. However; when additional flavors such as herbs and good quality cheeses are added to the mix, and then everything is fried or baked into a bread-like dish, it’s absolutely divine! But then again, I’m a big fan of cornbread and the main ingredient in Polenta is ground cornmeal . . .
How the Polenta is baked depends greatly on how you plan to serve it. When served with a simple side of tender greens (as you would say bread and salad), a thicker slice of Polenta is best. When served alongside other foods or with a pasta, a thinner slice of Polenta is best as the Polenta itself is dense.
Polenta with Parmesan & Rosemary
5 cups water
1 tsp. sea salt
2 cups instant polenta
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper
Bring the water to a boil with the sea salt.
Pour the polenta into the boiling water in a thin stream, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go. Turn the heat down to low. Continue stirring for five minutes — if lumps form, switch to a wire whip to break them up. Remove from heat.
Transfer the polenta to a mixing bowl. Add about 2/3 of the grated parmesan, reserving the rest. Stir well to mix. Add the rosemary, butter, olive oil and salt, and stir again. Grind in a generous amount of black pepper. Stir.
Butter a baking dish (large for a thinner Polenta, or a pie pan or au gratin dish for thicker Polenta slices). Pour the polenta into the dish and allow to sit for at least one hour. This will harden it up a bit.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
While the oven is heating, sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the polenta, along with a few stray rosemary leaves.
Bake until the parmesan has melted and the polenta is golden. The time will vary according to the size of your baking dish, so start checking after about 30 minutes.
Allow the polenta to cool for at least 5 minutes before slicing it into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature. If desired, serve with soft butter.