December seems to be an especially tricky month for finding balance. There is so much joy, so much celebrating, so much wonder. Yet there’s also an inevitable busyness that leads to such a frantic pace of life, which seems so contrary to what this season is supposed to be about. Eating in balance is also difficult when all I want to do is bake holiday goodies all day long. This polenta dish provides at least some balance– a little savory to counter all of the sweet. It’s simple enough for busy days and nourishing enough to compensate for having a bit too much dessert. The caramelized onions, mushrooms, and greens along with some fresh thyme make an excellent trio; the ricotta and goat cheese add a touch of creaminess, just enough to make it slightly indulgent but not overly so. The key to perfectly creamy polenta is cooking it over low heat for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and gradually adding more water. While 30 minutes may seem a bit laborious, it’s just enough time to caramelize the onions, soften the mushrooms, and wilt the greens while the polenta cooks. Afterwards with some quick assembly, it all melds together in the oven with mounds of soft and melty ricotta and goat cheese. It’s perfect for chilly evenings gathered around the table with loved ones and friends.
Ricotta Goat Cheese Polenta Bake with Mushrooms, Greens, and Caramelized Onions
- 2 cups polenta
- 8 cups water
- 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 16 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 12 ounces baby spinach or other greens
- 2 ounces goat cheese
- 3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- Preheat oven to 375.
- In a heavy pot, bring 6 cups water and salt to a boil. Gradually stir in polenta, stirring quickly to avoid lumps. Turn heat to low. When water is completely absorbed, add another 1/2 cup of water and continue to stir occasionally. Continue adding water, 1/2 cup at a time, after each time water is absorbed by polenta. Continue to cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in butter last.
- In a wide saute pan over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add the onions and stir to coat the onions in oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook over medium low heat until onions are golden and caramelized, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Transfer onions to a bowl and set aside.
- Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in the same pan. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook until mushrooms release their liquid and then evaporates. Add spinach and stir together until spinach is just wilted. Return onions to pan and stir to combine.
- Spread the polenta on the bottom of a lightly oiled 9×13 baking dish. Arrange mushrooms, greens, and onions over the polenta. Dollop mounds of ricotta and slices of goat cheese over the vegetable mixture.
- Bake for 20 minutes until cheese is melted and soft. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves to serve.