Polenta Bowls with Mushrooms and Spinach
These Creamy Polenta Bowls with mushrooms, spinach, and goat cheese are the coziest vegetarian meal or side dish! Ready in just 30 minutes for the ultimate comfort food.
This Polenta Bowl with spinach, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and goat cheese is vegetarian comfort food at its best. It's creamy and indulgent, but still packed with plenty of veggies. It's ready in under 30 minutes, is easy to customize, and makes a great main dish or side dish. Love polenta? Make sure to also try this Spinach Polenta and Baked Italian Polenta.
When I am craving something comforting, there are a few things that come to mind immediately: macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken pot pie, and polenta. I love the hearty, creamy, corn-filled flavor and it pairs so well with veggies. It's nearly impossible to resist.
And there is just something so comforting about eating these polenta bowls. Plus they are super versatile. Add different veggies, switch up the cheese, throw in some chicken sausage, add some marinara.
These quick and easy polenta bowls work with whatever you have on hand.
What is Polenta?
Polenta is made from yellow cornmeal, but it's actually a dish versus an ingredient (even though you'll find bags marked "polenta" but it's really about how you cook it that makes it polenta).
Polenta has its origins in Italy — a peasant food, like many foods that we love today. It was comforting, inexpensive, filling, and easy to make, all of which made it a perfect food for the working class of Northern Italy.
If what you bought at the store is labeled "polenta," that means that the corn meal is ground to the consistency that will make polenta appropriately. It's kind of like, how you'll want a fine grind for espresso beans, but not as fine for regular drip coffee.
You can find polenta dry, as a meal or flour. You can also find it in an instant or quick-cooking variety, or you can buy it already prepared. It will be in a tube-shaped package, like sausage or slice-and-bake cookies. When it's purchased already made, it's best to use this kind of polenta baked, sauteed, grilled, or fried.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Polenta: Polenta is made from finely ground cornmeal and is a really nice alternative to rice or quinoa in bowl recipes. This recipe is written for traditional polenta, but it will also work for quick-cooking polenta. Just adjust the amount of vegetable broth and cooking time.
- Mushrooms: Any type of mushrooms can be used for these polenta bowls. They are delicious with cremini, button, portobello, or mixed mushrooms.
- Spinach: To make things really easy, the spinach is cooked right into the polenta. It will wilt from the heat. If you prefer, saute it with the mushrooms. If you prefer a different green, like kale, then saute it with the mushrooms so it is nice and tender. You could also swap in fresh arugula and serve it on top of the polenta bowls.
- Onions and garlic: Make sure to cook the onions until they are lightly browned and beginning to caramelize. Any type of onion will work.
- Goat cheese: These polenta bowls are delicious with goat cheese, feta cheese, or Parmesan cheese.
- Thyme: Use any fresh or dried herbs you like. Add some red pepper flakes alongside the herbs if you like some spice.
How to Make Polenta Bowls
Polenta bowls should be your go-to meal this winter. They are so easy to make and seriously the best comfort food. Here's how to make any polenta bowl.
1. Make the Polenta
The hardest part of making a polenta bowl is cooking the polenta, but after a few tries, you will see how easy it is. Start by bringing your broth or water to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium low. Then slowly whisk in the polenta so it doesn't clump or stick together.
Continue to cook the polenta over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, whisking it every couple of minutes so it doesn't stick, burn, or clump. Once the polenta is soft and fluffy, it's done.
Polenta can be pretty bland on its own, so you want to add some fat. Milk or butter are the most popular options. It will also need some salt and pepper. And no one will blame you for adding some cheese. Just amek sure it is something that melts well.
2. Choose Your Veggies
Polenta bowls are great with all kinds of roasted and sauteed veggies. Earthy mushrooms and spinach, like this polenta bowl, are a great option but feel free to get creative. Consider adding some:
One other popular polenta bowl trend is to make Tex-Mex or Mexican Polenta Bowls. Choose vegetables like tomatoes, sauteed peppers and onions, avocado, fresh corn, and radishes.
3. Pick a Protein
Although these bowls have over ten grams of protein already, you mightwant to add more. Here are some great ways to add protein to these polenta bowls.
- Chicken sausage
- Chickpeas, white beans, or black beans
- Eggs - fried, poach, or soft-boiled
Make your polenta bowls ever tastier by adding some fresh herbs, crispy onions, freshly grated cheese, marinara sauce, or hot sauce.
Recipe Ideas and Variations
There are so many ways to customize this dish.
- Add protein: Add some protein like salmon, chicken, shrimp, chickpeas, meatballs, sausage, or eggs.
- Change up the veggies: Make these polenta bowls with all different types of vegetables to change up the flavors. They are delicious with roasted broccoli, like these easy Garlic Broccoli Bowls.
- Use a different cheese: Try this with feta, parmesan, pecorino, gouda, or any other cheese you like.
- Try out different spices: Take this dish in different directions by cooking the vegetables in different spices. Try it with Cajun seasoning, blackening seasoning, lemon pepper, or any other seasoning blend you like.
What's the difference between polenta and grits?
Both grits and polenta are made from stone-ground cornmeal, but traditionally, polenta is made from yellow corn and grits are made from white corn. There is also some difference in how the corn is ground — it can range from fine to thicker grinds and that can affect taste and texture. Grits can be a bit mushy (think shrimp and grits) and polenta can be more course and almost al dente — like cooked pasta. In a pinch, just buy coarse cornmeal and use it in your recipe as instructed.
Side Dish Ideas
I often make polenta a side, but since this is a main dish, I'd want something else on the side, something like:
- A hearty side salad. Any kind, any type would go well with this dish.
- I like to make a protein with this. Salmon, chicken, and pork all go well with this dish.
- Try a side of roasted veggies — any of your favorites alone or all together with a simple seasoning of olive oil, lemon juice, and some Italian spices.
- Rather than add on a side, how about beefing this dish up with some additional veggies, spices, or condiments like hot sauce, red pepper flakes, or feta instead of goat cheese?
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common questions about this recipe.
How healthy is Polenta?
Polenta is low-calorie, with only 70 calories per 100-gram serving. It is also a source of protein and fiber, as well as iron and vitamin A.
Some brands are also fortified with additional nutrients, so check the package to be sure. Polenta is gluten-free, and, although it does have carbohydrates, the kind it contains are complex carbohydrates, which means these carbs are broken down slowly and therefore will give you energy for a long time after you've consumed the polenta.
It also helps to maintain your blood sugar levels, so you don't feel that crash two to three hours after eating a meal with lots of carbs.
Is Polenta gluten-free
Polenta is naturally gluten-free but it can be cross-contaminated since it is usually processed with other grains, much like oatmeal.
To be certain it is gluten-free, always choose one that is certified gluten-free.
Polenta Bowls with Mushrooms and Spinach
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- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 4 cups mushrooms
- 1 onion, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp. fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup polenta
- 3 cups vegetable broth (up to 4 cups)
- 1/2 cup nonfat milk
- 4 cups spinach
- 4 oz. goat cheese
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- Nutritional Information
Bring the vegetable broth to a boil. Add the polenta slowing, whsking it into the broth. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the poelnta is thickened and tender. It will likely take 20-30 minutes, depending on the type of polenta. Remove from the heat and keep to the side. Once the polenta is soft, Stir in the milk, goat cheese, and spinach. Taste and 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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