This creamy spinach polenta is such a dreamy side dish. Packed with Parmesan cheese and earthy spinach, it screams comfort food and makes the perfect side dish for slow roasted meats, veggies, and beans.
When it comes to comfort food side dishes, polenta is always at the top of the list. Although I love a good restaurant polenta made with lots of butter, heavy cream, and cheese, it isn't something I want to be eating every night. That's where this lightened-up Creamy Spinach Polenta saves the day.
To keep things light, it is made with vegetable broth, nonfat milk, and Parmesan cheese. This combination still creates a creamy and smooth polenta and really lets all that corn flavor come through. Then since I always love to sneak in some greens, I added a package of frozen chopped spinach. Trust me - it works!
Pro tip: Some folks have reached out nervous about making polenta since it has turned out gritty in the past. The key I have found is adding the polenta very slowly and stirring it constantly at the beginning.
What is polenta?
Polenta is a corn porridge dish that originally came from Northern Italy but is now popular around the world. It is made from coarsely ground cornmeal that is slowly cooked with water, broth, stock, or milk.
One way to think of polenta is a yellow corn version of grits. Grits are made with white corn and polenta is its yellow corn cousin.
Polenta is generally served in two ways. The first is a creamy porridge-like this spinach polenta we are sharing today. Normally this type of polenta is served with heavy cream, butter, or cheese.
The second way polenta is served is when it is cooled into a solid, almost spongy consistency. This is the kind of polenta that can be sliced, fried, or cooked into fries. It is also the type that you can find precooked in polenta tubes in the grocery store.
What You Need to Make Spinach Polenta
- Polenta: Polenta is basically just cornmeal, make sure to look for corase grained yellow cornmeal or cornmeal that is labeled polenta. Fine grain cornmeal tends to get very mushy when cooked.
- Broth: To add extra flavor, use broth or stock instead of plain water. Chicken or vegetable stock works best when since it doesn't overpower the corn flavor. Water also works.
- Milk: One way to add a creamy texture and flavor is to use milk in place of some of the water. Any milk will work, including non-dairy milk for vegan polenta. .
- Spinach: The easiest option is to use defrosted frozne chopped spinach. Just make sure to squeeze out all the water. Another option is sauteing fresh spinach and stirring that into the polenta once it is cooked. Any cooked greens or veggies can work.
- Parmesan cheese: The secret to adding a delicious nutty, cheesy flavor. It also adds saltiness ot the dish. Swap in nutritional yeast for a vegan option.
Help! The Secrets to Perfect Polenta
- My polenta is clumpy: This usually happens when the polenta is added to the boiling liquid too quickly. Instead, slowly add the polenta to the boiling water or broth. Whisk it the entire time so that the cornmeal is evenly distributed and doesn't stick together.
- My polenta is too thick: If you make polenta ahead of time, it will get thicker as it sits. To thin it out, heat the polenta over low heat. Then add some warm water or broth to the polenta and stir is vigorously. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.
- My polenta lacks flavor: If your polenta tastes bland, it likely needs more salt. This is the main culprit for bland or flavorless polenta. Kosher or sea salt is best. More Parmesna cheese will also help add flavor.
What to Serve with Spinach Polenta
Ther are so many options for side dishes for polenta from simple options like roasted veggies to healthy dishes like beef stew or braised chicken. Herr are some delicious dishes to make.
- Roasted veggies: One of the best simple meals is polenta with roasted or sauteed vegetables. Try it with roasted tomatoes, sauteed kale, garlic mushrooms, or delicata squash.
- Chicken and beef: Serve the polenta as the base to any rich, stewed meal like this Slow Cooker Meditterean Chicken, Braised Chicken Thighs, or Hearty Beef Stew.
- Seafood: Polenta can made a great base for seafood dishes, think shrimp and grits. Try it with this Pan Seared Salmon, Lemon Pepper Shrimp, or Grilled Swordfish.
Frequently Asked Questions
To keep polenta from becoming dry or gritty, it is important that you add the polenta to the liquid slowly. Constantly whisk the polenta as you add it to the boiling liqiod to prevent it from clumping. Also, make sure to cook the polenta long enough. Polenta takes at least 25 minutes to cook. Sometimes gritty polenta is simply undercooked.
If you find your polenta still isn't creamy, try adding some more liquid. Milk or vegetable broth can help smooth out the polenta.
One more trick! If you consistently find your polenta is coming out clumpy or gritty, try pulsing thy dry cornmeal in a blender before cooking it. This will speed up the cooking time and also ensure a super smooth, luscious polenta.
As the polenta sits, it will become thicker and more sponge-like. To reheat the polenta, heat it over low heat. Whisk in some extra milk, water, or broth. Continue to add liquid until the polenta is creamy and smooth. Season as needed since extra liquid was added.
This recipe turns out best when made from scratch with fresh cornmeal. The tubed polenta has a different texture and consistency and won't work to make porridge-like polenta.
Creamy Spinach Polenta
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- 2 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
- 1 cup nonfat milk
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cup polenta, dry
- 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
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* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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