Polenta Casserole with Fontina and Tomato Sauce

We came across this baked polenta recipe in an old Bon Appetit issue, and used up the last of our garden basil to make it. The recipe comes from an article on a unique Tuscan farm, Spannocchia, a working farm “eco” retreat, noted for its artisanal salumi. The casserole was delicious, and the farm looks even more intriguing. I love the idea of being able to hang out in a Tuscan kitchen taking cooking classes for vacation, don’t you?

Polenta Casserole with Fontina and Tomato Sauce Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 6.

If fresh basil isn't available, make the sauce with canned whole tomatoes that have basil included. Muir Glen has an excellent product that we often use. If you prefer mozzarella over fontina, feel free to substitute.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped carrots
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes (with basil if you have it)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (or 1 Tbsp fresh, chopped)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup polenta, or coarse cornmeal
  • 2 cups grated Fontina cheese

Method

1 Heat olive oil in a large saucepan on medium heat, add the onions, carrots, and celery. Cook until onions are translucent and carrots just tender (5-10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook a minute more. Add the tomatoes and their juice (break up tomatoes as you put them in), parsley, and oregano. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered, until sauce is reduced to about 3 cups. Mix in fresh basil, season to taste with salt and pepper.

2 In a large saucepan bring a quart of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt. Slowly whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until thick and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

polenta-casserole-2.jpg

3 Prepare a baking dish, brush 8x8x2 pyrex or ceramic baking dish with olive oil. Spread 1/3 of the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Pour half of the polenta over the sauce. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Pour another third of the sauce over the cheese. Pour the remaining half of the polenta over the sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, cover with remaining sauce. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature.

4 Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake until completely heated through, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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Recipe from Bon Appetit magazine, from the Spannocchia farm in Tuscany.

Links:
Mexican polenta casserole from Kath Eats Real Food
Spinach and cheese polenta casserole from Champaign Taste
Sausage and summer vegetable casserole with cheesy polenta from Bitchn Camero
Polenta pizza from Susan at FatFree Vegan Kitchen
Cheesy polenta and egg casserole from Culinary in the Country

21 Comments

  1. Al in SoCal

    Can I use ground beef / turkey in this recipe? I think I would like it, but my carnivorous family might not approve.

    Hi Al, I would suggest adding Italian sausage, browning it first of course. ~Elise

  2. nikkipolani

    Do you think I could refrigerate it after step 3 and heat the caserole the next day?

  3. jonathan

    Polenta? Check.
    Garlic? Check.
    Cheese? Check.
    Lots of cheese? Check.
    Easy to prepare casserole? Check.

    Color me there.

    And as far as spending a vacation cooking in Tuscany? A boy can dream…

  4. Kristi

    YUM! I’ve made a dish similar to this – it’s in the 1995 edition of the Joy of Cooking. Nikki, if I remember correctly, that recipe does call for the polenta to be refrigerated instead of letting it stand at room temperature. I believe it’s just for 30 minutes before the casserole is actually assembled, but I’m sure it would be fine in the fridge overnight too, assembled or not.

  5. Sophia from Kitchen Caravan

    In Mexico people make a similar casserole dish, but using the corn flour for tortillas, which has a slightly different taste. We did a Chicken, Poblano and Butternut Squash version for the Day of the Dead. The Italian version looks great, Fontina cheese melting. Yum!
    http://www.kitchencaravan.com/recipe/tamal-de-cazuela-tamal-casserole

  6. Lisa

    I make this basic dish once or twice a month. I have found that is is very forgiving & tasty casserole. Sometimes I use meat sauce, and/or add a layer or eggplant or zucchini (slice, bake or broil first), or add any left over cooked meat like cubed/ shredded chicken, turkey or meatloaf. The leftovers are a much coveted lunchbox treat, eaten cold or reheated.

  7. James Walsh

    I did a variation on this tonight and it was very good. Thank you for the idea and the inspiration.

  8. Marc

    Baking polenta, tomato sauce and cheese together is a sure winner. For even more excitement, I like to add some Gorgonzola cheese (part in the layers, part on top).

  9. Ted

    Made it for dinner and it was wonderful. I never made polenta before and learned how important it is to add the cornmeal slowly. I didn’t and my polenta was very lumpy. The lumps didn’t cook evenly and had a real earthy/dirt flavor. I’m eager to try it again, whisk and patience in hand.

  10. Cammie

    I made this recipe for supper tonight and it was awesome. I have become a real fan of polenta. I will make this again for sure!

  11. yana

    Is the 2-hour wait at the end of step 3 necessary? I’m hoping to speed up the total required time…

    I’ve only made it as prescribed by the recipe. If you skip that step, please let us know how it turns out. ~Elise

  12. David

    This was a fantastic recipe. I added some olives to the tomato sauce and used a mix of cheeses that I had on hand (feta, parmesan, and gorgonzola…) which was a great way to get rid of some odds and ends. Thanks for sharing it, Elise!

  13. Hilary

    I really didn’t like this. The polenta had a weird watery flavor, the texture was mushy, and the cheese didn’t pack enough punch. What was I doing wrong?

    Could be you just didn’t like the flavors. Fontina is rather mild. ~Elise

  14. Claire

    I have made this dish several times, and it is always a hit. Even my particular sister-in-law loved it! I am a huge fan of Simply Recipes- thanks for sharing your family recipes.

  15. Cathy

    Elise,
    Do you think it would be good to try this with some autumn flavors for Thanksgiving? Like, perhaps, butternut squash, sage, and bechamel? Thanks!

    Sure, why not? ~Elise

  16. kristi

    This was pretty tasty with just a few modifications to add more flavor. I added red pepper flakes, dash of cinnamon and chopped kalamata olives to the sauce. Otherwise, made everything per the recipe. Really looking forward to the leftovers!

  17. Kim

    I wonder if you could use masa harina instead of the polenta?

    Interesting idea. It does have a slightly different taste. Might work better with Mexican cheeses. ~Elise

  18. tkh

    Could you use cornmeal instead?

    You could use coarse cornmeal. ~Elise

  19. Kim

    I made this the other night and added some cooked hamburger. I also used cornmeal. I noticed that when using cornmeal you have to bake it and refrigerate it overnight to let the cornmeal set up otherwise it is runny. I, myself, think this would be kind of bland without adding some ground beef. We thought this was sooooo good!

  20. Kathy

    I tried making the Monday-night version of this recipe tonight. I whipped up the polenta first, then refrigerated it while I prepared the rest. It was close to room temp and feeling “set” when I pulled it out of the fridge. After baking and cooling, everything was very tasty, but also very runny. Thought I’d post this for those who cook late like me — save this for the weekend. ;-)

  21. Kathleen O'Connor

    Hi all!

    I’m a college student so I went to quick route for this recipe. As wonderful as homemade polenta sounds, I had a tube of pre-cooked polenta in the cabinet so I used that. I mushed it up before hand so that I could sprinkle it into the casserole and pretend it did not come from a tube.

    I didn’t wait 2 hours after I assembled it. (I was lazy.) The layers blended together a bit, so it wasn’t pretty like the picture, but it tasted great anyways!

    I also needed to get rid of some romana tomatoes and zucchini. I sliced them both up and sprinkled them on top with a little extra mozzarella.

    It was a pretty easy dish, and didn’t take that long (considering I skipped making the polenta and didn’t let it sit for 2 hours). I now have food for an entire week!

    Kathleen

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