I Tried This Hands-Off Method for Making Polenta and It Worked Like an Absolute Charm

published May 9, 2023
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The late great king of infomercials, Ron Popil, coined the phrase, “Set it and forget it,” and you will still hear it used to describe slow cooker and Instant Pot recipes that require little supervision. For busy home cooks, these recipes are gold and are the exact opposite of dishes, such as risotto and polenta, that demand the commitment of continuous stirring over a hot stove. 

Yet, polenta is a dish my whole family loves. Topped with sautéed mushrooms or marinara sauce and cheese, soft, buttery polenta is a true comfort food. So when I heard that it was, in fact, possible to make polenta in the oven, I had to try it for myself.

What Is Polenta?

Polenta is a cornmeal porridge that comes from northern Italy. It was originally a term that described porridge made from a variety of grains.

These days, polenta refers exclusively to cornmeal porridge, although there are variations, including polenta taragna, which includes buckwheat. Polenta is first boiled and then may be sliced and fried or baked.

How Do You Make Polenta on the Stove?

To make polenta on the stovetop, you’ll need to heat water, milk, or stock with a little butter while whisking in ground polenta. Then, you’ll need to stand there (or close by) for the better part of an hour, whisking the gently bubbling mass frequently to avoid sticking and scorching. Once the polenta reaches the desired consistency — thick but pourable — you can add whatever cheese or flavoring you like.

A Better Way to Make Polenta: Baked in the Oven

Typically, using the stovetop is the go-to method for making polenta for most people. But polenta can be made entirely in the oven! In fact, making polenta in the oven is a great way to spend less time tending to it while ensuring that it doesn’t burn.

To make polenta in the oven, spray a baking dish with pan spray, and then combine cooking liquid (either water or stock), polenta, butter, and salt. Stir well, and bake, covered for about 40 minutes to an hour, stirring roughly every 12 minutes or so. Once the polenta has absorbed the liquid and taken on a thick, creamy consistency, you can add other ingredients.

Why You Should Be Making Polenta in the Oven

Texturally, polenta made on the stovetop will always be a bit creamier than polenta made in the oven. That said, polenta made in the oven requires much less supervision and it still comes out delicious. Plus, there are many different ways to eat polenta, including both creamy and a bit crispy, which the oven helps deliver.