Recipe: Mini Polenta Grilled Cheese Bites with Marinara

Weeknight Dinners from the Pantry

There's no denying the comfort that a grilled cheese sandwich brings. In fact, I don't think of a grilled cheese sandwich as kid food — I think of it just as good food. The concept is highly adaptable too, so if you're looking for a new version, or perhaps a gluten-free one, here's one for you.

You know those big tubes of shrink-wrapped polenta you see in the store? They make perfect "bread" for an Italian-inspired grilled cheese sandwich. All you have to do is slice the polenta, bake the rounds with olive oil until golden-brown, then top with your favorite melting cheese.

While you can make these sandwiches in a skillet on the stovetop, I've found that polenta takes much, much longer to brown than bread does. Making a whole batch of these sandwiches in one pan would require working in batches, which would just take way too long, so that's where your oven comes in.

Instead, place all the polenta slices onto a baking sheet, and into the oven they go to brown, leaving you free to prep a salad or vegetable to make this a complete dinner. Once the polenta is browned, top with cheese, let it melt, and sandwich the rounds together. It's a naturally gluten-free, hearty, but surprisingly easy way to get a grilled cheese sandwich fix.

To make a complete meal, serve this with:

Polenta Grilled Cheeses with Zesty Marinara Dipping Sauce

Makes 8 small sandwiches

1 (24-ounce) tube cooked polenta
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, or combination, grated or thinly sliced
1 cup marinara sauce
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven and heat to 450°F.

While the oven is heating, cut the polenta crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds (you will have about 16 slices). Place the rounds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush the rounds with the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Bake until the polenta is golden-brown on top, 20 to 30 minutes.

Flip half of the rounds over with a thin, flat spatula. Divide the cheese evenly among these rounds. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the cheese melts, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, warm the marinara sauce and pepper flakes in the microwave or on the stove.

Place the remaining polenta rounds, browned-side up, on top of the cheese-covered polenta rounds to form sandwiches. Let the polenta grilled cheeses cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before serving. Serve with the spicy marinara sauce for dipping.

Recipe Notes

  • Cheese options: Feel free to experiment with your favorite type of melting cheese. Fontina or mozzarella are fabulous options!

(Image credits: Melissa Ryan)

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Weeknight Dinners From the Pantry

Per serving, based on 8 servings. (% daily value)
Calories
161
Fat
7.3 g (11.3%)
Saturated
3.1 g (15.4%)
Trans
0.2 g
Carbs
18.4 g (6.1%)
Fiber
1.4 g (5.5%)
Sugars
2.2 g
Protein
5.3 g (10.6%)
Cholesterol
14.7 mg (4.9%)
Sodium
231 mg (9.6%)