A hearty gratin with ready-made polenta

Quick and delicious, no matter how you slice it
CHRISTINE WEBER HALE

Polenta Gratin with Tomato-Porcini Sauce

It's really no more than cooked cornmeal ― grits if you're in the South. But take just one taste, and it's easy to understand why polenta is so admired. The nutty, slightly sweet corn flavor, luscious with melted cheese, is the perfect complement to hearty stews and ragouts.

The traditional method of cooking polenta calls for at least 45 minutes of simmering with constant stirring ― a labor of love. But, if your heart isn't into that kind of commitment, and you still crave polenta, ready-made is the answer. Cooked polenta is sold plain or seasoned, usually in plastic-wrapped logs or blocks.

The sturdy texture makes it easy to slice. To make individual gratin casseroles, drench oven-heated polenta slices with a lightning-quick tomato-porcini mushroom sauce, then top with cheese and slip under the broiler. For other uses for ready-made polenta, check at right.

MORE QUICK TRICKS WITH COOKED POLENTA

  • For a light supper, heat polenta slices in the oven, then top with a vegetable stir-fry. (Use cut stir-fry vegetables from the produce section or frozen stir-fry vegetables.)
     
  • Tuck teleme, cheddar, or blue cheese between thin slices of cooked polenta and broil or pan-brown for a new take on grilled cheese sandwiches.
     
  • Pan-brown cooked polenta slices in a little butter for breakfast. Serve with powdered sugar or maple syrup.
     
  • For appetizers, cut 1/2-inch-thick polenta slices with cookie cutter to make one or two bite-size pieces. Top shapes with purchased pesto, tapenade, or roasted red pepper spread, then sprinkle with grated parmesan and broil until sizzling.
     
  • Use thin slices of cooked polenta instead of pasta in lasagna.
     
  • Serve your favorite stew or chili over oven-warmed cooked polenta slices.