Leftover Lunch: Polenta

Photo: Stacy Spensley Polenta, for me, makes a meal restaurant-worthy. Making a stew? I'll happily eat it out of a bowl, but if it's resting on a bed of polenta, I'll take a pic. Not feeling pasta again? I'll spoon pesto over polenta with cheese and greens. Fancy dinner accomplished.

My favorite polenta, however, is always what's leftover. Where meal one is creamy and smooth, meal two (and three and four) can be crispy, chewy, and entirely unrecognizable.

Make the perfect polenta, to start. Try it with asparagus and broccoli rabe, or oven roasted tomatoes.

For the leftover polenta, while still warm, pour into a greased, edged baking sheet and flatten evenly. Allow it to chill in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook with it. (Or, pour it onto saran wrap, and roll it into a tube. Instead of cutting out the shapes of polenta you want, you can slice it into evenly sized rounds.)

polenta lasagna

  • Fried - In a pan over medium-high heat, cook even rounds, triangles, or squares about a 1/2 inch thick in olive oil until crispy and browned, and then flip. Serve as a side dish on its own, or stack into an elegant salad. Personally, I pack it in a lunch with charcuterie and a couples pieces of nice cheese.
  • Croutons - Cube the chilled polenta, and either deep-fry or cook on each side until crispy. Pair with a chunky salad or creamy soup, or use in panzanella.
  • Crackers - With a sharp knife, cut rounds a bit thinner than 1/2 inch thick, and brush with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and then grill. Top with any flavorful bruschetta filling.
  • Pie crust - Press into desired shape. For pizza, roll it out as thinly as possible, and bake with pizza toppings. For a more classic pie shape, press into the pan, and bake empty or with filling inside already. (No need to blind-bake because the polenta won't puff up or get soggy.)
  • Gratin - In a baking pan, assemble any combination of vegetables, meats, sauces, and cheeses with thin slices of polenta in layers or just haphazardly mixed up. Bake, with cheese or breadcrumbs on top, until crispy. Use sautéed vegetables and thin, rectangular layers for a polenta 'lasagna' as pictured above, or try a casserole with mango and black beans.
  • Breakfast - There are a lot of options for this. Any of the above, with a fried egg on top, for example. Or, any of the above techniques with sugar, honey, maple syrup, and fruit render a sweet, dessert-y polenta. Try reheating polenta in a pot with milk, stirring a lot to dissolve lumps, until you get the consistency and texture of cream of wheat. Serve with a sweetener, fruit, whipped cream, yogurt, or ricotta.

polenta with chicken

For more Leftover Lunch ideas:

Leftover Lunch: Zucchini Two Ways

Leftover Lunch: Roast Chicken

Don't Throw Out Stale Bread! Leftover Bread Makes For Great Food

Make Fantastic and Creative Sandwiches and Tacos With Your Leftovers