Sauce my carbs
January 14, 2022 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I want more ideas for topping a bowl of polenta, please and thank you.

Lately all I have wanted when it's cold out is this polenta cooked up on the stove, with saucy stuff on top. I usually do roasted veg with some kind of mustardy vinaigrette, or buttery garlicky sautéed mushrooms, or some sort of bbq sauced protein along these lines.

I am growing weary of my usual options and request more. Obviously any hearty sauce or stew will theoretically work on a polenta bowl, but I would like your ideas, please and thank you.

There are a few ideas in previous asks like this one and this one, but I intend to eat some variation of this a couple times a week until spring, so the more the merrier.

Also, ideas for flavoring the polenta itself are welcome. I usually use stock and some spices depending on what I'm going to ladle on top, sometimes cheese or cream. One of the ideas in those previous asks involves using a can of pumpkin, which is intriguing.
posted by the primroses were over to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Not a topping but a method but this cacio e pepe recipe is hands down my favorite polenta recipe out there. For topping, I like garlicky sauteed/roasted kale or chard.
posted by rossination at 7:19 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you eat meat? If so, the Romanian dish mămăligă cu brânză might be awesome. It's essentially polenta loaded with cheese and topped with bacon, served cut into slices. The bacon described in this recipe is regular bacon and that will work. However, if you live near a Polish/Eastern European grocery, they may have slanina/salo/szalonna/Kolosvari bacon (Bende is a common brand and is good) which is cured fatback bacon. That will take this dish from being very good to transcendent.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:27 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Pesto, roasted tomatoes and feta.
Greens and white beans
posted by entropyiswinning at 7:43 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Italian sausage, red bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, parm
Fried egg and leftover greens from the night before (warmed up in the egg pan), parm
posted by HotToddy at 7:48 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

One of our local restaurants does a polenta dish topped with white cheddar and either red vegetarian chili or green New Mexico chili. It's awfully good & hearty.
posted by mochapickle at 7:48 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I've had good results adding curry powder to polenta in the past.
posted by eotvos at 8:19 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

West African stew with peanut butter and greens. There are dozens and dozens of versions, some have meat, some are vegan, some have sweet potatoes, etc. They are all good on polenta (and cornbread). This recipe (but use less broth) will give you a good idea of the basics.
posted by Knicke at 8:26 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

Butter and maple syrup, which are traditional toppings for fried cornmeal mush (which is another excellent way to eat polenta, happy to provide guidance if desired :) Dash of hot sauce optional (Valentina, Cholula or similar).
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:27 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

It's funny, I have never loved polenta, but recently I have been craving fegato alla veneziana on top of polenta. I have tried a lot of online recipes, and this is the one that comes closest to my ideal recipe. I add in another onion, there has to be a lot of onions, and I have successfully adjusted the recipe to just two servings (one for the day of, one for gently warming and eating on grilled polenta the next day).
I am thinking the recipe will work with chicken livers as well.
posted by mumimor at 8:43 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Pesto cream sauce with mushrooms and shallots
Pesto with fresh green vegetables
Chopped raw veggies and chevre - think cucumbers, scallions, tomato, etc
Cheeses in the polenta itself - gorgonzola, grated cheddar, whatever strikes your fancy
Dried fruit in the polenta will rehydrate beautifully

You can also go sweet: jams, fruit sauces, maple syrup...
posted by bile and syntax at 8:46 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

mushrooms + onions/shallots cooked in the rendered fat of crumbled sausage of your choosing (and of course add the crumbled sausage in too)
posted by mmascolino at 8:51 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

Lamb ragu

Frankly, I like just some marinara sauce and a big ol' meatball or some Italian sauasage with polenta.
posted by briank at 9:03 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

There is a recipe I found in one of my "cooking for solo person" cookbooks which I've practically memorized because it is easy, good, pretty fast, and INCREDIBLY adaptable; it's a sausage-and-pepper thing that gets served on polenta. I'm going to try to remember the original recipe as best I can, because by now I really wing it.

For one person you need:

One Italian-style sausage link, mild or hot as is your preference
One bell pepper, cut into strips
1/3 cup chopped onion
about half a small tomato, chopped
A couple sprigs of basil if you like, chopped

Drizzle some olive oil in a small saucepan, heat that up and then sear the sausage, browning on all sides. When it's brown, take it out and put in the onion. Let that saute until soft. Then drop in the tomato and let that saute as well until the tomato breaks down and gets a little saucy. Then add the basil and pepper strips, give things a stir, and put the sausage back in. Add a couple tablespoons of water, turn the heat down to low, cover that and let that cook away for a half hour. When it's ready, fish out the sausage and slice it up, add it back to the pan to heat back through and then serve that over polenta.


I have often made things even easier on myself by using those pre-cooked chicken sausages instead of the raw sausage link; I usually skip the bit where you sear the sausage, and cut the cooked sausage link into strips instead and add that with the pepper strips. On occasion, I have also used a Mexican chorizo link if that's what I had instead of sausage. I also tend to use those Italian sweet peppers instead of bell peppers (I get that kind from my CSA a lot). I have also cheated and used a glug of pre-made tomato sauce instead of the chopped tomato, and I have left the basil out if I didn't have any. I also have added a small clove of minced garlic because come on, how can this recipe not have garlic.

...Beans-and-polenta also turns up a lot on the various Rancho Gordo fan group fora; here are two recipes from the Rancho Gordo site itself:

Polenta with cranberry beans and tomato sauce (this one starts with already-cooked beans so you could totally use whatever canned beans you think would work)
Polenta with heirloom beans and chard (this recipe calls for dried beans and has you season them a certain way when cooking, but you can cheat and substitute about 2 cans of beans instead; I would drain them and rinse them, and add some kind of herb seasoning blend to them when you add them to the rest of the recipe).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:19 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Really anything commonly used on congee would also be delicious on polenta (or grits, oat porridge, etc). This Food & Wine list includes a kabocha squash option (you can sub acorn or butternut if kabochas are hard to find). Reddit discussion.

My favorite congee topping is a sort of quick-braise/stew/sauce of boneless skinless chicken thighs and lots and lots of mushrooms. Start by sauteeing some aromatics, add some cups of chicken stock to the pan (enough to cover everything) with a splash of soy sauce (also black vinegar and xiaoxing wine if you've got it), and add a pat of butter or tablespoon of scallion or plain oil. Simmer your mushrooms and chicken in that until it all cooks down to an umami gravy-stew. Serve over your porridge of choice with sliced green onions and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:32 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Steamed asparagus and a poached or soft boiled egg, with plenty of fresh grated parmesan and butter
posted by ananci at 9:47 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

This is pasta sauce, but there's no reason you couldn't put it on top of polenta:

1. Steam 2 cups of chopped broccoli florets and stems until just tender.

2. Use an immersion blender to roughly blend the broccoli (leave chunks).

3. While broccoli is still hot, stir in 1/2 cup (or more, to taste) of cubed Gorgonzola cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I don't add more salt because the cheese is salty but YMMV.

4. Serve immediately.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:15 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I can't eat dairy, and when my pizza craving in intense, I make polenta with lots of olive oil, and mix in my favorite pizza toppings (green olives & pepperoni), and serve it with red sauce on the side. It's not like pizza, but the polenta is rich and creamy, has the right flavor mix, and it satisfies the craving. Which is to say that if it's good on pizza, it's probably good on polenta. And, to a large extent, if it's good on pasta, same.

Leftover polenta or grits seize up into a solid. This can be cut and warmed, and is tasty, but can also be sliced and fried in more olive oil. The edges get crispy and it's really good.
posted by theora55 at 11:56 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

my bil has a family recipe similar to this. hid sauce is much saucier. and, he uses saltisa sausage.

it's really good.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:09 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This polenta and kale miso soup created my most craved-for leftovers (I had to pace myself on the bowls I ate for several days!) in the past couple of years. I made it this past weekend, and am thinking about doing another batch this weekend...
posted by Jaclyn at 5:28 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Thinking about this, I realized that caponata might be very good on polenta, too. Not traditional, but who cares?
posted by mumimor at 2:20 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: All of these sound delicious, thanks for the great ideas!
posted by the primroses were over at 9:31 AM on January 17

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