Baked polenta cups are the perfect vessel to serve your favorite Southern side dish! These little cornmeal cups are perfect for serving bite size Southern appetizers like purple hull peas and stewed tomatoes and okra!
I first made these polenta cups one summer afterI had just made a batch of purple hull peas and cornbread. It's a novel concept that's actually pretty easy to make!
What is Polenta?
Polenta is cooked cornmeal with a relatively mild flavor and a firmer texture than cornbread. It is often seasoned with spices and herbs to reflect a particular ethnicity of a meal.
Interestingly, the term "polenta" actually refers to an Italian dish made from flint corn, and not to a grain or corn. Most American polenta dishes made from high quality stoneground cornmeal, or with everyday cornmeal.
What Does Polenta Taste Like?
Polenta has a mild flavor and its texture is a lot like grits. You can easily enhance the flavor of plain polenta with the addition of seasonings, herbs or spices. For instance, if you're serving an Italian pasta dish, you might serve polenta seasoned with basil, oregano or sage and a side of ratatouille.
What is the Texture of Polenta?
The texture of cooked polenta is similar to grits; grainy and not to thick. However, in this recipe the polenta is first cooked on the stove top, then baked. The baked texture is semi-firm, chewy and a bit grainy.
What Kind of Cornmeal or Polenta Should I Purchase to Make Polenta Cups?
Keeping in mind that polenta is not an ingredient, but a dish, you'll want to be smart at the grocery store. Some manufacturers market "polenta" in a clear, plastic tube, but remember, polenta is a dish..not an ingredient, so this is a little misleading.
Don't be fooled by these marketing tactics. Polenta is a dish made from cornmeal, so any high-quality cornmeal will suffice. Stoneground cornmeal works well, as does normal cornmeal.
How do I Form the Polenta Cups?
After you've seasoned and cooked the cornmeal on the stove top, pour it into a lightly greased muffin pan and place the pan in the fridge for about 15 minutes. Then, using wet fingers or a wet spoon, gently massage the cornmeal to form cups. Bake at 350ºF for about 25-30 minutes.
Stewed Tomatoes and Okra is a classic Southern dish, typically served as a side dish, along with a slice of fresh cornbread, -- a great side dish to place in a polenta cup.
- 1 cup cornmeal high quality or stoneground
- 4 cups water (can use broth)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt may need a bit more
- 1 tablespoon butter optional
- In a large saucepan, bring water (or broth) to boil; add cornmeal and salt; reduce heat to medium
- Using a wooden or metal spoon, begin to stir the mixture; it will spit and spatter, so be careful; continue to stir until mixture begins to thicken and pull-away from the sides of the saucepan; you may have to reduce the heat a bit here!
- Remove from heat; taste for salt; add butter (optional); add any spices or seasonings now
- Pour contents into non-stick (or lightly oiled) muffin pan; place muffin pan in fridge for about 15 minutes
- Preheat oven to 350ºF; adjust cooking rack to the middle
- Remove muffin pan from fridge and, using wet fingers or the back of a wet spoon, begin to massage the cornmeal into cups
- Once cups are formed, bake for 25-30 minutes on middle rack
- NOTE: the color of the polenta will not change; to test for doneness, gently push on the bottom of the cup; it should be relatively firm
- Once cups are baked, remove muffin pan from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes;
- Use a knife to score the perimeter of each muffin pan, gently loosening the cup
- Place polenta cups on wire rack to cool
- If serving immediately, place cups on serving platter and fill with contents
- If you're making the polenta cups in advance, store in a air-tight container in the fridge for up to three days;
- When it's time to serve the cups, simply pop them on a baking sheet and re-heat until warm throughout; plate, fill and serve