Polenta is one of my pantry staples. If it’s not a staple in your kitchen, let me persuade you: it’s super easy to make when you buy the quick-cooking variety and it’s kid-friendly too. I swear! It has a flavor that’s pretty hard to object to and the fact that you can add cheese to it makes it a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. And there are so many ways to use it: serve it creamy in a bowl topped with veggies, layer it in a casserole with a sauce and cheese, let it set and cut it into slabs, or slice it into fries and bake them until they’re golden brown and crispy.
Yes! Fries! Let’s talk about fries. This requires a little advanced prep, but you can take advantage of polenta’s versatility and make double the amount of polenta for dinner one night; pour half of it into a baking dish to set for later and eat the other half in bowls as a creamy porridge that night. The next day, you’ll cut the polenta into fries and bake them.
These are a huge hit with Little Pea because she’s a fan of any food that can be dipped into a sauce. They’re crispy on the outside and tender on the inside—they taste like the best kind of junk food (because: cheesy! crispy!), but they’re not junk food. Why can’t everything be like that?
You can get creative with the polenta if you like; sometimes I add chopped fresh herbs and minced garlic. A nice aged cheddar is a delicious substitute for parmesan if you’re into that kind of thing. Alternately, you can season the fries before baking or pile them high with toppings once they’re done—chili cheese polenta fries, anyone? This is why polenta is a staple in our house, because it’s a blank canvas that pairs with just about anything.
Serves 8 fries
Yields 32 fries
These fries are crispy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside, and a crowd-pleaser for all ages.
15 minPrep Time
40 minCook Time
55 minTotal Time
- 3 cups water
- Pinch of salt*
- 1 cup quick-cooking polenta (I use Bob's Red Mill )
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- Grapeseed oil (or any other high-heat oil), for brushing
- Marinara sauce, for serving
- Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. When the water starts boiling, whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.
- Grease an 8x8-inch baking dish with oil. Pour the polenta into the dish and use a spatula to smooth the top. Let the polenta cool for 10 minutes, then cover it and place it in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, or until it's chilled and set. (You can make the polenta up to 2 days in advance; usually I make it the night before.)
- Preheat oven to 450ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Slice the set polenta into 8 rectangles; carefully remove each rectangle from the baking dish and transfer it to a cutting board. Cut the rectangles into 4 fries, for a total of 32. Place the fries on the prepared baking sheet and brush them lightly with oil (not too much!).
- Bake the fries for 20 minutes, then flip them over, brush the tops with oil, and bake for another 20 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Serve with marinara.
*Because young children shouldn't consume much sodium, I only add a pinch when I make polenta. If you're not cooking for toddlers, you can add a teaspoon.
Prep time only includes active time; you'll have to allow an hour or two for the polenta to set.