Margherita Baked Polenta Recipe
Margherita Baked Polenta Recipe: An Easy Polenta Recipe layered with marinara sauce, fresh basil, and mozzarella cheese, all on a comforting Pesto Polenta base!
What is Polenta?
There’s nothing quite like polenta to satisfy a comfort food craving.
Polenta is the Italian version of grits, made from coarsely ground corn. It’s cozy and inviting, with a soft rustic texture.
While grits are normally made with white corn, and polenta is typically made from yellow corn, the two are interchangeable.
Polenta can be cooked on the stovetop and served loose like grits. Or it can be poured into a baking dish and baked into a firmer consistency that makes a marvelous platform for toppings.
If you make this coarse-ground cornmeal properly, you will get the best sweet corn flavor.
Although I love polenta in all forms, I’m especially fond of baked polenta. It serves as a wonderful carb-y base for all sorts of stacked appetizers, breakfast options, and baked casserole dishes, like today’s recipe, Margherita Baked Polenta.
Margherita Baked Polenta Recipe
If you were to ask me for my go-to polenta recipe, this simple homey Italian-style polenta dish is what I would give you.
This baked polenta has the appeal of lasagna, or other Italian-baked pasta recipes. Yet because it’s made with ground corn instead of pasta, it is completely gluten-free!
The thick layer of polenta on the bottom is packed with rich herbaceous flavor from basil pesto, and smoked gouda cheese.
It has a soft decadent texture that holds its shape, yet is easy for a fork to sink into.
Our Easy Baked Polenta Recipe is perfect for family gatherings and parties because it is:
- A huge crowd-pleaser
- Simple to assemble ahead of time
- And wheat-free!
The term Margherita does not refer to the margarita cocktail, but to an Italian combination of ingredients that resembles the Italian flag. Red is represented by tomatoes, green by basil, and white by mozzarella cheese.
This flavor combination is said to be named after the queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, who visited Naples in the late 1800s.
This combination is most often found on Pizza Margherita (since tomato, basil, and mozzarella were the queen’s favorite pizza toppings) but can be used in all sorts of Italian-inspired dishes.
A Polenta Recipe Fit For Royalty
Today we’re using the Margherita colors and flavors in this simple baked polenta recipe.
The baked polenta acts as a tender pillow that supports the other flavors.
It gets its devilish texture from the addition of gouda cheese, and the fact that it’s technically cooked three times!
First, the polenta is boiled. Then it is baked dry. Then it is topped with marinara, basil, and fresh mozzarella slices, and baked again.
Don’t worry… The whole process takes less than an hour.
Although you can make polenta with just ground corn, water, and salt… Adding basil pesto, vegetable broth, and gouda cheese gives this polenta recipe an abundance of flavor.
If you are trying to make a vegan version, you can leave out the gouda, and either omit the mozzarella on top, or swap it with a vegan cheese substitute.
However, it’s important to mention that many jarred pestos do have parmesan cheese in them. So make sure to read the label when selecting one.
What Ingredients You Will Need
- 1 3/4 cups dried polenta (course yellow grits)
- 7 cups vegetable broth, or water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup basil pesto
- 6 ounce smoked gouda, shredded
- 24 ounce marinara sauce (jarred or homemade)
- 20 large fresh basil leaves
- 2 large fresh mozzarella balls (16 oz total)
How To Make Polenta
Basic polenta is very simple to make…
- Boil water or broth.
- Whisk the polenta into the water so it doesn’t clump.
- Simmer the polenta until the grains are soft and the consistency is thick.
- Season the polenta with salt and pepper.
How To Bake Polenta From Scratch
Although to can buy pre-cooked polenta in logs that you slice and bake, making it from scratch is quick and easy.
- Start by boiling the polenta until it is soft and thick.
- Then pour the polenta into a baking dish and spread it out in an even layer.
- Bake the polenta until it is firm and puffy.
Then you can either cut and serve the polenta as-is, or top it with zesty ingredients like we did!
Margarita-Style Polenta Step-by-Step Instructions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Set out a 9X13-inch baking dish and spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Then set a large 5-6 quart sauce pot on the stovetop over medium-heat heat.
Pour the vegetable broth (or water) into the sauce pot. Once boiling, whisk in the polenta and salt. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so the polenta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
Once the polenta is very thick and the grains feel soft, turn off the heat. Stir in the pesto and smoked gouda. Then pour the polenta into the baking dish before it starts to firm. Smooth the polenta in an even layer.
Bake the polenta for 25 minutes, uncovered. Meanwhile, slice the mozzarella balls into 12 rounds. *After 25 minutes, if the polenta doesn’t seem set in the middle, bake an additional 10 minutes before you proceed. It needs to be firm before the marinara goes over the top.
Pour the sauce over the top of the baked polenta and smooth into an even layer. Arrange 12 large fresh basil leaves over the marinara, 3 across and 4 down. Then cover the basil leaves with 12 mozzarella slices. Sprinkle ground black pepper over the top, if desired.
Bake again, for 10-15, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has melted. Let the polenta rest for 5 minutes, before cutting and serving.
Get the Full (Printable) Margherita Baked Polenta Recipe Below.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Goes with Baked Polenta?
Our Italian Baked Polenta can be served as a vegetarian main dish, with a salad or roasted vegetable on the side.
How Long Does This Dish Last?
You can store the leftovers of this dish in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Can I Switch The Shredded Cheese?
If you would rather not use gouda, you can also use freshly shredded parmigiano-reggiano cheese or another soft white cheese that is your favorite.
More Italian Recipes You Will Love
- Healthy Italian Wedding Soup
- Cacio e Pepe
- Ricotta Baked Ziti with Sausage
- Kale Pesto
- Whole Roasted Snapper with Anchovy Butter
- Pappa al Pomodoro
- Zoodles (Zucchini Noodles)
- Creamy Broccoli Pasta
- Skillet Shrimp Fra Diavolo Pasta
- Creamy Polenta Recipe by Love and Lemons
- Buckwheat Polenta with Cascadilla Bleu by Maine Grains
- Creamy Parmesan Polenta by Craving California
Check the printable recipe below for the nutrition information including calories, carbohydrates, protein, sodium, and potassium percentages.
Margherita Baked Polenta Recipe
- Pour the vegetable broth (or water) in the saucepot. Once boiling, whisk in the polenta and salt. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so the polenta doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.
- Once the polenta is very thick and the grains feel soft, turn off the heat. Stir in the pesto and smoked gouda. Then pour the polenta into the baking dish before it starts to firm. Smooth the polenta in an even layer.
- Bake the polenta for 25 minutes, uncovered. Meanwhile, slice the mozzarella balls into 12 rounds. *After 25 minutes, if the polenta doesn't seem set in the middle, bake an additional 10 minutes before you proceed. It needs to be firm before the marinara goes over the top.
- Pour the marinara over the top of the baked polenta and smooth into an even layer. Arrange 12 large fresh basil leaves over the marinara, 3 across and 4 down. Then cover the basil leaves with 12 mozzarella slices. Sprinkle ground black pepper over the top, if desired.
- Bake again, for 10-15, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has melted. Let the polenta rest for 5 minutes, before cutting and serving.
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