Polenta Hiding Greens

This ultimate creamy comfort food is filled with surprises.

Photos by Leah Lizarondo


A mound of hot, creamy polenta comes to the table, steaming, sprinkled with flecks of sea salt and toasted pine nuts, glistening with just-drizzled olive oil. But that is just the beginning. A spoon breaks the perfect semi-soft ridge and underneath, a treasure of thyme-scented sautéed mushrooms, garlicky greens and a creamy, tangy sauce that fills each bite with comfort. That was my first encounter with Polenta Hiding Greens. As always, Italian food delivers deep salvation from winter.

I have been thinking about this since I listened to The Splendid Table last weekend. Dorie Greenspan was talking about this classic dish, and I just had to make it. I rarely make “multi-part” dishes — my time usually allows only one-pot meals on weekdays or easy roasts and stews. But fortune gave me a snow day, so there was no other option but to satisfy my curiosity.

Boy, did it ever deliver. It was superb. The blender and three pots on the stove were worth every effort. And guess what? It actually wasn’t that hard to make. Perhaps the polenta required minimum fuss, but each element of the dish is simple, and the sum of the parts is absolutely voluptuous.

The mushrooms and greens are easy sautés. The creamy cashew base is an unexpected surprise. The traditional recipe calls for slices of mozzarella in the bottom layer. If you are vegan, I am thinking some nondairy sour cream may be a nice substitute. However, whether you’re omni or vegan, you have to try the Tangy Cashew Cream recipe with umeboshi vinegar. Umeboshi vinegar is an incredible condiment to get acquainted with if you haven’t already. It is made from fermented plums, and the result is very salty and umami-filled. You only need a little bit to get the punch of flavor. Adding it to smooth cashew cream gives it just the right kind of balance of sweet, salty and tangy. It’s the perfect foil for the other layers.

This is a beautiful dish to serve at a dinner party or for a weekend meal. It is deceptively modest when it arrives at the table but lands on the plate in a flourish of creaminess. For a crowd, I would not hesitate to make it in layers in a casserole dish like a version of Shepherd’s Pie.

A winner. A keeper. A dish you will make over and over.



  Polenta Hiding Greens

Yield: Serves about 8


Sauteed Mushrooms

  • 2 cups Cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • Olive oil
  • A splash of red wine, marsala or sherry
  • Salt and pepper


1. Sauté onions in olive oil until caramelized.
2. Add thyme and stir for a few seconds.
3. Deglaze pan with a little splash of wine or water.
4. Add mushrooms and sauté until softened.
5. Season with salt and pepper.


Garlicky Greens

  • 2 bunches beet greens (or other greens such as swiss chard or escarole), roughly chopped
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, minced (I like more garlic than that, but it is up to your taste.)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


1. Sauté garlic in olive oil; add greens until wilted.
2. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Cover and keep warm.


Tangy Cashew Cream*

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked for a few hours or overnight
  • ¼ – ⅓ cup water
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • ¼ t sea salt, fine
  • 1 T garlic powder
  • 2-3 t umeboshi vinegar
  • Finely ground pepper


1. Drain soaked cashews.
2. Place in high-powered blender with water and lemon juice.
3. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides.
4. Add salt, garlic powder, umeboshi vinegar and pepper.
5. Blend for a few seconds more.
6. Taste for seasoning.
7. Set aside.


Creamy Polenta

  • 1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal (soaked overnight, optional. This makes the grain easier to digest)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 t salt
  • Pepper to taste


1. If soaked, drain polenta.
2. Bring water to a rolling boil. Add salt.
3. Pour polenta into boiling water and whisk gently.
4. Continue to whisk until thickened. Turn heat to low and continue to whisk.
5. Cover and cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so and making sure to scrape the sides.
6. Let cool for a bit to thicken some more.



1. In a large serving dish, spoon the cashew cream.
2. Layer the mushrooms on top of the cream.
3. Layer the greens on top of the mushrooms.
4. Spoon polenta over the vegetables and shape to cover.
5. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts or almonds.
6. Serve.

Categories: Brazen Kitchen