On our third date, my future husband took me to a trendy Los Angeles restaurant where I had the best polenta of my life. It was cheesy, creamy, and smothered in marina sauce. It was kind of like lasagna, except better. So I set out to recreate it. My version uses corn grits, chicken stock, and Parmigiano-Reggiano (because we are not here for pre-cooked cardboard polenta, thanks). It is layered with marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and topped with crispy shallots and oregano. My husband doesn’t remember much about the polenta from our date, but with this dish, he doesn’t need to. And I’ll consider that a win.
- 1 cup of corn grits
- 1.5 cups of chicken stock
- 1.5 cups of water
- 1 tsp of salt
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (always grate yourself)
- 1/2 a jar of your favorite Marinara sauce
- 4-6 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, grated (about 1/2 of a single fresh mozzarella ball)
- 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
- 3 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed and roughly chopped
- 1 shallot, peeled and sliced thinly into rings
- 1 anchovy (optional, but it adds a depth of flavor, so highly encouraged)
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- a loaf pan or small casserole dish
Step 1: Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shallots and anchovy, season with salt and pepper, stirring frequently until the shallots are crispy and have turned a golden-brown color. Remove from heat, and spread shallots out onto a paper-towel lined plate.
Step 2: Return the pan to the stove over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, season with salt, and cook about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in the marinara sauce, season with freshly ground pepper, and keep the heat on the lowest setting. We’ll use the marinara sauce later.
Step 3: Bring water and stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Meanwhile, preheat your broiler and position a rack in the upper third of the oven.
Step 4: Once the water has come to a boil, add grits, whisking constantly as you pour them in. Bring heat down to a simmer, and continue whisking constantly until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 min. (Note – it is important to constantly be whisking, otherwise you will get clumpy polenta.) Remove from heat and stir in butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano, again whisking to incorporate everything.
Step 5. Time to layer. Pour the polenta into the loaf pan or small casserole dish. Top with marinara sauce in an even layer, followed by the grated mozzarella cheese. Place in the oven for just a few minutes under the broiler just until the cheese is melted and browned in spots – this will happen quickly. Take out of the oven and top with the crispy shallots and oregano.