Vegetable Polenta Casserole

Someone asked me the other day if I ever cook anything that just doesn’t turn out well and the answer is YES. If I ever go more than a few days without posting a recipe, there’s a good chance that whatever I cooked just didn’t turn out well and I have to wait for my next day off to try again. But a lot of times I’m never really sure how I feel about a recipe until I eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. Then it’s crystal clear whether I’ve got a hit or miss.

That’s what happened with this gem. When I cooked it, I was a little disappointed with the visual appeal of the final product and was so distracted by other stuff going on that I just couldn’t get into eating it. The next day I brought it to work for lunch and I fell in love! I ate it every day for lunch after that and just couldn’t get enough!

The casserole combines a base of polenta (cornmeal) cooked in vegetable broth and with frozen spinach mixed right in. Next, I sautéed some veggies, added diced tomatoes and herbs to make a quick sauce, and layered that on top of the cooked polenta. I added a touch of shredded mozzarella on top for good measure and baked it all until it was hot and bubbly. The end result reminded me a little of lasagna, but vegetarian and gluten free. The texture is soft, but the flavor is spot on!

I’ll definitely be trying different variations on this recipe and I plan to test out a different broth to cornmeal ratio to help solidify the bottom layer. Buying coarse ground cornmeal (like true polenta) may also help thicken the bottom layer (I just used regular, finely ground cornmeal). Either way, it still tastes awesome and I want MORE!

P.S. I went kind of large on the serving sizes here, because let’s be honest. Cornmeal and vegetables isn’t terribly filling.

Vegetable Polenta Casserole

Vegetable Polenta Casserole - Budget Bytes

4.13 from 32 votes
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Vegetable Polenta Casserole

This Vegetable Polenta Casserole is full of flavor and gluten free! 

Total Cost $5.87 recipe / $0.98 serving
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 3 cups vegetable broth* $0.39
  • 1 cup cornmeal $0.24
  • 8 oz frozen chopped spinach $0.78
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil $0.32
  • 2 cloves garlic $0.16
  • 1 small onion $0.50
  • 1 small zucchini $0.58
  • 1 small yellow squash $0.76
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes $0.69
  • 1/2 tsp basil $0.05
  • 1/2 tsp oregano $0.05
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika $0.05
  • freshly ground black pepper, 10-15 cranks of a pepper mill $0.05
  • 4 oz shredded mozzarella (1 cup) $1.25

Instructions

  1. Bring the vegetable broth to a rolling boil in a medium sauce pot. Stir together the cornmeal plus one cup of water to make a slurry, then stir it into the boiling water (this helps reduce clumps). Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10-15, or until thickened. Once thickened, stir in the frozen spinach until heated through.
  2. Meanwhile, mince the garlic and dice the onion, zucchini, and squash. Combine the onion, garlic, and olive oil in a large skillet and sauté over medium heat until the onions are softened. Add the zucchini and squash and sauté about five minutes more.
  3. Once the zucchini and squash are soft, add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, paprika, and pepper. Stir to combine and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Begin to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  4. When the cornmeal (polenta) is finished cooking, pour it into the bottom of an 8x8 inch casserole dish. After the vegetable mixture has finished simmering, spread it on top of the polenta in the casserole dish. Top with the shredded mozzarella.
  5. Bake the casserole for about 20-25 minutes, or until it is heated through and the cheese is bubbly on top. Serve hot.

Recipe Notes

*I use Better Than Bouillon reconstituted with water to make my broth. It's much less expensive than canned or boxed broths.

 

Vegetable Polenta Casserole - Budget Bytes

 

Step by Step Photos

Cornmeal Mush

Cook one cup of cornmeal according to the package directions, using 3 cups of vegetable broth in place of the three cups of boiling water.

Spinach

Once the cornmeal (polenta) has thickened, add 8 oz. (1/2 lb) of frozen, chopped spinach. The kind that is frozen loose in a bag as opposed to a block works best here because you can just stir it into the polenta straight from the freezer.

Layer One

Spread the polenta-spinach mixture into the bottom of an 8×8 casserole dish.

Onions and Garlic

While the polenta is cooking, mince the garlic and dice the onion, zucchini, and yellow squash. Add the onion and garlic to a skillet with the olive oil and sauté over medium heat.

Squash

Once the onions are soft, add the squash and zucchini. Sauté for a few minutes more, or until the squash begin to soften.

Tomatoes and Herbs

Next, add on 15oz. can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 tsp basil, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp paprika, and some freshly cracked pepper. Stir to combine and let this mixture simmer for about 10 minutes. Also, begin to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lyer Two

After the mixture has simmered, spread it out over the polenta in the casserole dish.

Cheese

Lastly, add 4 oz. (1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese. bake the casserole in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until it’s heated through and the cheese is bubbly on top. I went light on the cheese because I’m trying to cut back, but you could certainly add more, or add a layer of ricotta!

Baked Vegetable Polenta Casserole

And then when it’s finished baking it’s beautiful and it smells delicious! Now, when it first comes out of the oven, the polenta is very soft so the whole thing just kind of mushes together… after cooling in the refrigerator it firmed up and I was able to scoop proper portions into smaller containers.

Vegetable Polenta Casserole - Budget Bytes

Like lasagna… ‘cept different.