I've written a lot of recipes for egg casseroles. Between my recipes here and my casserole cookbook, I've beaten and baked eggs into dozens of permutations. There's good reason for this; egg casseroles are one of the easiest ways for me to make a week of breakfast in one big batch. But honestly, I've been getting a little tired of my egg routine. I needed something new, a fresh make-ahead breakfast with all the convenience of oven omelets.
This past weekend, I found it. Meet the polenta breakfast bake — a no-stir, practically hands-off way to make a hearty breakfast that will last you all week.
The idea popped into my mind after seeing Megan's delicious and inviting recipe for Herbed Goat Cheese Polenta Bites. I do love polenta for breakfast, but I'd only ever eaten it in a bowl, like creamy oatmeal. Seeing Megan's appetizer squares of polenta, I realized that these could also make a great breakfast.
But stirring polenta, while not too great a chore, was still not how I wanted to spend a busy Sunday afternoon. I remembered that polenta can also be made in the oven — baked in an open dish and stirred just once or twice. Could it work for the recipe I had in mind?
I whisked together water and milk with a few eggs and some coarse cornmeal. Then I cooked a little bacon until crispy, folded in spinach just until it wilted, and added this to the bowl. A handful of Parmesan made the finishing touch. I poured the batter into a baking pan, slid the dish into the oven, and crossed my fingers.
I stirred twice while baking, just to make sure the cornmeal didn't settle at the bottom. The casserole grew progressively thicker until, suddenly, it was done. I sliced it into fat squares and dug in.
I knew immediately I had found my new favorite breakfast. The casserole had the hearty, satisfying deliciousness of whole grain cornmeal, but lightened by the eggs, which made the texture just ever so slightly custardy. The bacon and spinach flavored everything beautifully.
These squares are certainly sturdy enough to go with you to work in a lunch container or plastic bag. They taste good cold, warm, or hot, and they'll give you breakfast all week long. I can hardly wait to experiment with other flavors, too — like Gruyere and ham, or kale and chopped red pepper.
I hope you enjoy this as much as we have been here; it's our new favorite.
Breakfast Polenta Squares with Spinach & Bacon
Makes 16 2-inch squares
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
3 ounces bacon or pancetta, diced
1 small white onion, diced
3 ounces baby spinach, roughly chopped
4 large eggs, beaten
2 cups milk (any fat content)
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups coarse cornmeal
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly-ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter a 9x9x2-inch square dish with the butter. (Note: this recipe will fill a 9x9 or 8x8 dish quite full, so if you want to be extra-cautious, use a 9x13-inch pan instead. If using a 9x13 pan expect the dish to finish baking 5 to 10 minutes sooner)
Cook the bacon or pancetta in a deep skillet over medium heat until crispy around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onion and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes or until the onion has softened. Stir in the spinach and cook briefly, just long enough to barely wilt the spinach. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl and whisk in the milk and water, then whisk in the cornmeal and 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Fold in the cooked bacon and spinach mixture, along with the salt and a generous quantity of black pepper. Pour into the prepared baking dish (the dish will be quite full).
→ Make-Ahead Note: At this point the casserole could be covered and refrigerated overnight, then baked in the morning.
Bake uncovered for 45 to 55 minutes. Stir twice while baking, at the 15-minute and 30-minute marks. Remove from the oven when the polenta looks firm and a knife comes out clean. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan over top while the casserole is still hot.
Serve warm, cold, or hot. Leftovers will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.