When my daughters were really little and learning to eat I used to make a version of this which they loved. Baked polenta was firm enough and easy to grab in their chubby little fists, yet soft enough to bite with a gummy mouth and smear about the table. After the need for such perfect baby food properties had passed, polenta got sidelined in my cooking repertoire. I’d use it in the odd pancake recipe or cake, and it’s a staple to add a bit of crunch (instead of semolina) to my home made pizza crust… but as a main ingredient it has been long ignored.
I decided to experiment with polenta again after hitting a brick wall with some repetitive meal planning. I thought the soft crunchy slices of polenta would compliment the rich roasted butternut squash (and both could be roasted in the oven at the same time) and then the dish could be finished with a quick tomato lentil sauce. The polenta itself needs to be prepared a little in advance, so this is either a recipe for a day spent at home, or can be easily prepared a day ahead of time and kept in the fridge to be roasted the next evening.
For the polenta
- 1 cup (160g) polenta (59p)
- 3.5 cups (850ml) of stock (20p)
- 100g of fresh spinach (88p)
- 2 cloves of crushed garlic (10p)
- 2 tbsp of vegan butter / refined coconut oil / olive oil (20p)
- A handful of fresh parsley (45p)
- Salt and pepper
- Oil for baking (10p)
Before you start, get the rest of your ingredients ready, finely shred the spinach, peel the garlic, and have your parsley to hand. Once the Polenta is cooking it needs to be watched and stirred virtually constantly, so there will be little time for gathering ingredients.
Bring the stock to the boil and gradually whisk in the polenta until it is all combined, then turn the heat down. It will begin to thicken up quickly and maybe splatter the kitchen so be careful and continue to stir. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat them into the mixture, continuing to cook for about 15 minutes. Then transfer the thick porridgy polenta into a loaf tin. The Polenta loaf then needs to be left to cool for at least an hour. I prefer to make the polenta the evening before and then cut it for baking the next evening.
When you are ready to bake the polenta, heat the oven to 220 degrees c.
Once the polenta is completely cool and solid, cut it into 1cm thick slices, and place on an oiled baking sheet, brush the top of the polenta with more oil and place it in the oven for 40 minutes, turning once. (While this is happening, you can also roast some other veggies to accompany the polenta, roasted squash with garlic and rosemary is very good this time of year.)
For the sauce:
- 1 small onion (10p)
- 2 cloves of chopped garlic (10p)
- 50g of red split lentils (14p)
- 1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes (89p)
- 1/2 tsp of hot smoked paprika (8p)
- The juice of 1/2 a lemon (25p)
- salt and pepper
While the polenta is roasting you can make the sauce.
Fry the onions and garlic an a medium sized sauce pan, add the lentils, stirring to coat them in oil and then continue to fry the lentils for another 2 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients and put a lid on the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Once the lentils are tender, blend the sauce with a stick blender, it should be a thick robust sauce, which will become a substantial part of the meal.
Serve the roasted veg and crispy polenta, with a generous dollop of sauce on top, this is a really tasty combination of textures and flavours which especially seems to appeal to the young’uns – I suppose, it’s just enough like chips and tomato sauce to seem like junk food!
The ingredients for the baked polenta and the sauce come to Just £4.08, and allowing another £1 for the roasted veggies, you have a whole (not at all junky!) meal for just £1.27 per portion.