Oct 25, 2018

Crispy Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce, Sautéed Kale & Mushrooms

Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 45 mins
The crispy polenta is topped with tomato sauce, sautéed kale, mushrooms and a generous pile of grated Parmesan cheese.

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This recipe is a heavy rotation in my house because it can easily be assembled from things in the fridge. I actually developed the recipe when I went foraging in my refrigerator for ingredients so that I didn’t have to make a trip to the grocery store. It’s inspired by a crispy polenta dish at Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica, California and makes for a great, easy vegetarian entrée or weeknight dinner.

The crispy polenta is topped with tomato sauce, sautéed kale, mushrooms and a generous pile of grated Parmesan cheese. This recipe is flexible and can be topped with whatever other sauces or vegetables you have on hand.

Crispy Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce, Sautéed Kale & Mushrooms

More About Crispy Fried Polenta

I had some leftover polenta from this creamy ricotta polenta with sautéed mushrooms and leeks that had “setin the container so I cut it into squares and pan-fried it until crispy. The recipe was so successful that now I make polenta just for this reason but leftover polenta will do the trick as well. To make the recipe easier the polenta can be made and set in the pan ahead of time. Make the polenta the night before and let it cool, covered in the fridge until ready to use.

Key Ingredients in This Recipe

  • Polenta – Look for high-quality, stone-ground cornmeal. Be patient and give the polenta time to cook to develop the rich corn flavor.
  • Chicken stock – Chicken stock is typically made from chicken bones as well as aromatics and vegetables while chicken broth is made with the meat. How does that affect their flavor? Chicken stock has a much richer, more robust flavor which comes from the collagen released from the simmering bones. On the other hand, chicken broth is much more mellow in flavor. I typically use chicken stock when cooking. In a pinch the chicken stock can be substituted with water though it takes away some of the flavor.
  • Mushrooms – In this recipe I use a combination of Bella, shiitake & maitake mushrooms though any mix can be used. I recommend buying whole mushrooms and slicing them yourself so they are more evenly cut than pre-cut mushrooms. Use a damp paper towel to wipe away dirt before slicing the mushrooms.
  • Kale – The kale is sautéed until tender and simmered in broth to braise it. This method of cooking adds much more flavor to the kale.
  • Tomato sauce – While this recipe calls for homemade marinara sauce,  store-bought sauce can be used as as a substitute. There’s nothing wrong with canned sauce and it can be an easy shortcut, but since the homemade sauce only requires a few ingredients, I typically prefer to make my own.

How to Make Crispy Polenta

  1. Cook the polenta. Bring the chicken stock (or water) and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Slowly add the polenta, whisking constantly.
  2. Simmer the polenta. Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low and cook. Season with the pepper and stir in the Parmesan until fully incorporated.
  3. Let the polenta cool and harden. Line a 9″x9″ cake pan or baking dish with parchment paper and pour the polenta in and spread in an even layer. Cover and refrigerate until it becomes firm, for at least an hour.
  4. Fry the polenta. Cut the polenta into 9 squares. Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Working in batches add the polenta to the pan and fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.
  5. Sauté the aromatics. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Add the onion and sauté until sot and opaque. Add the garlic and cook.
  6. Simmer the tomato sauce. Add the tomatoes and basil, stirring to combine. Simmer until the sauce comes together, adding more water if the sauce gets too dry. Stir in the red pepper and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Sauté the kale. Heat a large high-edged sauteuse pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through (may have to work in two batches depending on the size of the pan). Add the kale and toss to coat in the oil. Sauté, stirring occasionally until the kale has wilted.
  8. Simmer the kale. Lower the heat to medium-low then add the chicken stock and simmer until the kale is tender and most of the stock has evaporated, about 8 minutes.
  9. Sauté the mushrooms. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Add butter and allow to melt, then add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes. Season with salt and continue to cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes.
  10. Serve. Divide the crispy polenta among plates with kale and mushrooms. Top with sauce and Parmesan.

Other easy variations on this recipe:

  • Substitute store-bought sauce for homemade.
  • Sauté other greens instead of kale like collards or spinach.
  • Instead of mushrooms you can use sautéed vegetables like eggplant or zucchini.
  • Try adding cooked ground meat to the sauce or topping the dish with cooked, sliced sausage.
  • To make the recipe vegan omit the cheese from the polenta and swap out the butter in the mushrooms and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Crispy Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce, Sautéed Kale & Mushrooms

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Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the polenta:

  • 3 cups chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup coarse polenta
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the spicy tomato sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes
  • ¼ packed cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper, as needed

For the sautéed kale:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces curly or dino kale, stalks removed and roughly chopped (about 5 packed cups or one large bunch)
  • ¾ cup chicken stock

For the mushrooms:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ¾ pound assorted mushrooms, quartered (I use baby bella, shiitake & maitake)
  • Kosher salt, as needed

Instructions:

For the polenta:

  • Bring the chicken stock (or water) and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Slowly add the polenta, whisking constantly.
  • Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Season with the pepper and stir in the Parmesan until fully incorporated.
  • Line a 9×9-inch cake pan or baking dish with parchment paper and pour the polenta in and spread in an even layer. Cover and refrigerate until it becomes firm, for at least an hour.
  • Cut the polenta into 9 squares. Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Working in batches add the polenta to the pan and fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.

For the spicy tomato sauce:

  • Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Add the onion and sauté until sot and opaque, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and basil, stirring to combine.
  • Simmer until the sauce comes together, about 30 to 45 minutes, adding more water if the sauce gets too dry. Stir in the red pepper and season with salt and pepper.

For the sautéed kale:

  • Heat a large high-edged sauteuse pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through (may have to work in two batches depending on the size of the pan). Add the kale and toss to coat in the oil. Sauté, stirring occasionally until the kale has wilted.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low then add the chicken stock and simmer until the kale is tender and most of the stock has evaporated, about 8 minutes.

For the mushrooms:

  • Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Add butter and allow to melt, then add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes. Season with salt and continue to cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes.

For serving:

  • Divide the crispy polenta among plates with kale and mushrooms. Top with sauce and Parmesan.

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  1. 5 stars
    This recipe was amazing. It is packed with all so many nourishing things. I love the diversity- being able to add less or more heat to the tomatoes as you’d like. The crispy polenta cakes, buttery mushrooms and tang from the sauce take this to the next level! Must try!

  2. Really loved this! Such simple flavors, but somehow it all just completely worked! So happy I stumbled upon your recipe. Husband loved it too. Will definitely be in regular rotation. Thank you