This Baked Italian Polenta and Vegetables made with eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, and spinach all in a rich marinara sauce with garlic and mozzarella cheese is the most delicious vegetarian comfort food.
If you like polenta, then you have to try this delicious baked polenta and vegetable dish. Between the creamy polenta, tender vegetables, and rich tomato sauce all covered in a layer of melted mozzarella - it's like a big hig in a bowl.
Baby, it's cold outside. And when fall slowly turns to winter, even though I don't experience the coldest weather like some other climates, it's still cold enough to make me want to cook comfort foods to warm me up.
Like today, for instance. Today was chilly and we had a lot of running around to do, which means my thoughts immediately turned to something fast for dinner. I didn't have time to get out the slow cooker, but that's okay. Sometimes I enjoy the actual act of creating meals from scratch — even something fast.
To that end, I thought of creating this simple Italian Baked Polenta and Vegetables. It's hearty, comforting, warm, and combines polenta, marinara sauce, cheese, and veggies, so what could really be better? It's like a big warm hug that you will want to eat by the spoonful the minute it comes out of the oven (but, don't actually do that, unless you like a burned mouth). You can mix up the veggies and use almost any that you or your family enjoy eating. (Just keep in mind that you might have to drain off any water so you don't end up with soupy casserole.)
How do I make baked polenta?
If you want to make this dish with homemade baked polenta, it's actually really easy to prepare. To start you will want 12 ounces of polenta and 8 cups of liquid. You can use water, chicken broth, or vegetable broth. Then:
- Coat a 2.5-3 quart baking dish with cooking spray or butter.
- Bring the liquid to a simmer in a large pot. If using water, add a good pinch of salt.
- Turn off the heat and slowly stir the polenta into the liquid, stirring it rapidly. Once it is fully stirred, turn the heat back on over medium heat. Bring it to a boil and continue stirring continuously for five minutes. Many people recommend stirring in only one direction.
- Pour the polenta into the baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
- If making this baked Italian Polenta dish, add the vegetables, sauce, and cheese. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until cheese melts and bubbles.
Ideas for Customizing Italian Polenta and Vegetable Bake
This dish can be easily customized for nearly any palette!
- Make your own polenta and just spread if over the bottom of the dish if you prefer.
- If you want to add some protein you could use vegetarian sausage or crumbles.
- If you eat meat, you could add some browned ground beef, turkey, or sausage.
- Swap out any veggies for ones you like. For instance, you could skip the eggplant and add only summer squash and zucchini or change out all the squash for broccoli and asparagus.
- Add some pesto (homemade or store bought) to the marinara sauce to kick up the basil flavor.
- If you change the veggies, you might want to change the cheese too. For instance, if you go with a Mexican-themed dish, try Monterey jack. If you try a Mediterranean dish, try feta or goat cheese.
- Add a fried egg to the top of each serving, break the yolk and mix in the eggy goodness into your meal for added protein without many extra calories.
- Add pre-cooked, shrimp to the top of the dish, but skip the cheese.
- Add beans to the bake. Use canned (drained, rinsed) navy beans or kidney beans.
What Is Polenta?
Polenta sounds really fancy, doesn't it? It sounds as though it's made out of some mystical grain that is hard to find. The truth is, it's made out of cornmeal, plain and simple. If you've only used cornmeal as a breading or as a bottom for your pizza crust, boy are you in for a treat.
At its most basic, polenta is a cornmeal porridge. Though it's most often associated with Italian food, it can really be found in most any cuisine in some fashion (think grits or tamales). It's also kind of like a risotto in a way, in that it needs to be kept at close watch, cooked low and slow, and stirred constantly.
You can also buy it pre-made or in an "instant" version, and, though I do prefer the act of making polenta, sometimes you just need to speed up the process. Once it's made, you can bake it, fry it, and use it in all kinds of ways, like this Grilled Balsamic Mushrooms with Polenta or these Polenta Fries.
Is Polenta Full of Carbs?
Polenta is made from cornmeal, which is made from — you guessed it — corn. A 3.5-ounce serving of polenta has 15 grams of carbs, which is low for a grain. It's also a good source of protein and fiber, and it's gluten-free.
What to Serve with Baked Polenta and Vegetables
This is a meal in and of itself, I think. But if you are serving a crowd or just want options, you could also try serving:
- A side salad or this Healthy Kale Caesar Salad.
- Steamed veggies (like ones you like but everyone else doesn't).
- A side of cooked, ground meat or sausage (to add for those who want to eat meat).
- Slices of crusty French bread or baguette.
- Rolls (either homemade or baked up from the freezer section).
- With scrambled eggs or beans on the side.
This recipe was originally posted in 2014 but has been updated with new photos, tips, and tricks.
Baked Italian Polenta and Vegetables
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- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1 medium eggplant, diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 1 summer squash, diced
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 8 oz. spinach
- 1.5 cups marinara sauce
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 18 oz. prepared polenta, sliced into one inch rounds
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella, divided
Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add the eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and mushrooms. Cook for 6-8 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and spinach. Cook until spinach wilts. Drain any excess water. Stir in the marinara sauce and basil. Season with salt and pepper.
* 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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