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ATK Kids

World’s Easiest Side Dish: Totally Hands-Off Baked Polenta

No stirring, no problem.
By Published Apr. 14, 2022

Call me unconventional, but I prefer to do my workouts in the gym—not in the kitchen. And if you’ve ever made a traditional recipe for risotto or polenta, you know that cooking them can require some serious upper body strength (and a lot of time standing over the stovetop).

Luckily for me (and my biceps), ATK has discovered a way to prepare both of these starchy superstars hands-free. I could wax poetic all day about our almost no-stir shrimp risotto, but let me tell you all about this baked polenta that will make you forget everything you know about polenta cookery.

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While most recipes call for nonstop stirring as the polenta bubbles away on the hot stovetop (to avoid scorching and lumpiness), this recipe completely flips that concept on its head: There’s (virtually) no stirring, and the whole operation takes place in the oven. The simplicity of it all made this recipe a great addition to ATK Kids’ latest cookbook, The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs.

How does it work? All you have to do is combine polenta and water in a baking dish and bake it for about half an hour—the oven’s heat gently and evenly cooks the polenta from all sides, so there’s no scorching and no lumps in sight. Once it’s cooked through, simply whisk in Parmesan cheese and butter until the polenta is nice and creamy. Then, plate it up with a hearty ragu, top it with a fried egg and/or veggies, serve it plain with an entrée, or turn it into crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside fried polenta—you can find that recipe in the book.

"I liked not having to stir constantly like when it’s on the stove.”
—Riley, recipe tester, age 17

Hands-Off Baked Polenta

Serves 4

  1. In 8-inch square baking dish, stir together 4 cups water, 1 cup coarse-ground polenta, 1 teaspoon salt, and pinch pepper.
  2. Bake at 375 degrees until water is absorbed and polenta has thickened, 30 to 35 minutes.
  3. Transfer baking dish to cooling rack. Sprinkle with 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons butter, cut into ½-inch pieces. Whisk until butter is melted and polenta is smooth. Serve.

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