Another one of my weekly staples — a home made version of Trader Joe’s Creamy Polenta. I used to keep a bag of this polenta stocked in my mini fridge at all times freshmen year and into my sophomore year of college until one of my friends pointed out what a rip off it was. Don’t get me wrong, TJ’s frozen polenta is so good and makes for a quick, healthy meal if your cooking abilities are confined to a microwave. But, if you have access to a stove and 15 minutes to spare, you will save a lot of money DIYing this one.
A 16 oz bag of TJ’s Creamy Polenta, which contains 2 servings costs $2.99. A 24 oz bag of polenta, which will quadruple to 96 oz when cooked, costs $3.95. I bought a 16 oz bag of frozen spinach ($1.99) along with the 24 oz bag of polenta, and the two lasted me ~6 months of bi-weekly polenta making and ran out at the exact same time. There was something so satisfying about finishing both at once, as if they knew one didn’t have a place in the kitchen without the other. Polenta & Spinach: A Love Story.
If you’ve never had polenta, it is best described by it’s common tagline “corn grits”. Polenta is essentially boiled and stewed cornmeal that tastes very similar to grits, although they are two very different foods. My parents lived in Alabama for 15 years, with my sister for 8 and me for 4. Growing up semi-vegetarian in The South, grits became our southern comfort food of choice. It has been 15 years since we left Alabama, but grits and eggs still have a place in my heart, which is probably why I can’t get enough of this polenta.
Making this dish is super simple. Usually I make it when I’m just about to hop in the shower after coming home from class or the gym. I mix 1 cup polenta with ~4 cups water, half cover it with a lid and pop in the shower. After a ~10 minute shower, I run to the kitchen in my towel, hoping the polenta hasn’t burnt or boiled over, give it a quick stir, and continue getting dressed. This is the kind of chaotic cooking I encourage. Apparently this is NOT how polenta purists would recommend it cooked, but who cares. Was the polenta sometimes lumpy? Yes! but nothing a whisk can’t fix. Did the polenta sometimes stick to the bottom of the pan? Yes! but nothing a quick soak can fix. The end product tastes the same no matter what happens during the cooking process because polenta is, well, mush… and it’s hard to mess up mush.
Once the polenta is cooked in the (salted) water, I turn off the heat, add a handful of frozen spinach, dash of milk, a small knob of butter (~1Tbs), and whatever cheese I have in the fridge. This is a great way to use up any extra parmesan, goat cheese, cheddar, etc. but it is also great on it’s own!
I often cook 1 cup of polenta at a time, which would yields 4 cups of cooked polenta to keep throughout the week. Pictured here is the polenta used as a bed for shakshuka, a tomato-egg dish that I have been making for years. You can find my shakshuka recipe here, which was one of my first original recipes I blogged and one make to this day. Here is a not-so-glamorous photo of shakshuka in the making. I wasn’t planning on documenting the shakshuka, but when I cracked the eggs and saw that one of them had twin yolks, I was genuinely so excited and had to share this photo. I’ve always wanted twins!!
Here’s another simple variation of the creamy polenta: Polenta, Avocado, and Sriracha. (ft. a mini avocado!)
And when in doubt… crack an egg on it. 🙂
- 1 cup Polenta
- 4 Cups water
- Pinch salt
- 1/4 cup frozen spinach
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 Tbs butter
- Cheese (optional and to taste)
Cook polenta according to package directions. I prefer throwing the polenta and water together, and cooking on a medium heat until the water is absorbed, stirring occasionally. Once the polenta is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.