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Pantry All-Stars: Polenta

A spotlight on the ingredients we always have on hand for quick, kid-friendly meals.

Polenta Fries

Cornmeal, which is just corn that’s been dried and ground, was introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus upon returning from the Americas. Now often associated with Northern Italy, it’s traditionally cooked into a porridge, sometimes with decadent additions like cheese and cream. But if you’re in a hurry on a weeknight, those easy-to-use tubes of cooked polenta on grocery store shelves make mealtime a snap.

Most brands are just a combination of cornmeal and water, which means the polenta is both gluten-free and vegan. Its mild flavor can pair with savory or sweet ingredients, and it lends itself well to frying, baking, and broiling.

How to use it:

Slice it into a speedy, lasagna-like casserole. Kids can layer up slices of polenta with shredded cheese, sautéed veggies, greens, and marinara sauce for a gooey, satisfying dinner. (Polenta slices are also delicious atop a Mexican-inspired tamale pie.)

Fry up polenta “pancakes” for breakfast. Pancakes in less than five minutes? Weekend brunch will never be the same. Everyone at the table can have it their way, whether topped with an egg for an ersatz benedict or sweet with berries and Nutella or maple syrup.

Presto, it’s a mini-pizza crust. Broil thin rounds of polenta until crisp and top with sauce, cheese, and any toppings your heart desires before popping in the oven to get melty. Want to make a larger pizza? Blend up the polenta with a few other pantry staples and bake on a cookie sheet or pizza pan.

Bake a batch of polenta fries. Easier to slice than potatoes and just as ketchup-friendly, Parmesan-crusted polenta fries go from pantry to oven to table in no time. Scroll down for the full recipe!

Did you know? Little Sous offers a monthly themed kids cooking box that will help your family connect in the kitchen. Check out our subscription options!

Baked Parmesan Polenta Fries

Serve these oven-crisp fries with ketchup, homemade mayo, pesto, or marinara for a simple side dish or savory snack. They taste best right out of the oven, but you can crisp up any leftovers in a skillet the next day or enjoy at room temperature from a lunchbox.

Featured in Pantry All-Stars: Polenta

Polenta Fries
  • Yield: 3-4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 package prepared polenta (18 ounces)
  • Olive oil or olive oil spray (or other cooking spray)
  • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Steps:

  1. Step 1

    Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray or brush a baking sheet with oil (or line with parchment paper).

  2. Step 2

    Slice the polenta into ½-inch “fries”—you can make longer fries by slicing the tube lengthwise instead of cutting coins first. Place the fries on the prepared baking sheet and spray or brush with oil.

  3. Step 3

    Scatter the Parmesan on a plate, and roll the fries in the cheese until lightly coated.

    Sous Tip:

    If the cheese isn’t sticking to the polenta sticks, try pulsing the cheese in a food processor until it resembles sand.

  4. Step 4

    Bake for 15 minutes, then flip the fries over with a spatula. Continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes longer or until golden brown. Serve immediately.