Amanda & Merrill

Broiled Polenta Cakes

February 18, 2014

Merrill's daughter Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.

Today: Crisp little nuggets made from leftover polenta.

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This week, ladies and gentlemen, we'll be talking yet again about The Mush Factor. I could probably write about this topic for every single column -- it's the greatest challenge I've faced since we started feeding Clara solid food a year and a half ago.

I can't think of a single mushy thing Clara will eat: no oatmeal, no mashed potatoes, no overripe bananas, none of it.

More: If you've never made your oatmeal with miso, you should.

The problem is that I love mushy things. Nothing makes me happier than a cozy bowl of risotto or cheesy grits. I crave nursery food. (Even the name implies that Clara should like it!) But she doesn't, and my husband doesn't either. So I reserve these comfort foods for nights when I'm home alone for dinner and not indulging my other solitary pleasure, cheese and crackers. Try to contain your envy -- I know my evenings alone are pretty exotic.

Lately I've been lusting after polenta, perhaps because I've run across this recipe a few times. So for a solo dinner one night, I made a pot of it, enriched with a little mascarpone and some grated Parmesan. Because why make just a little polenta when you can make a lot? It'll be great as leftovers for lunch all week, I told myself, even if no one else but me will eat it.

Then it occurred to me that I might be able to turn that leftover polenta into something Clara wouldn't turn up her nose at. The next night, I brushed cubes of the chilled polenta with olive oil and broiled them until they were crispy little nuggets. She took one in each hand. She looked at them, and then at me. She took a cautious nibble of one of the cubes.


Did I correct her? No, I did not.

Broiled Polenta Cakes

Serves 8

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups polenta (yellow cornmeal)
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom 

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • peg denton
    peg denton
  • NakedBeet
  • Danny
  • TheFarmGirlCooks
  • Mama D
    Mama D
I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


peg D. May 16, 2018
Fried grits have been a staple in southern homes since the beginning of time, but broiling could be so much easier! Thanks for the idea!
NakedBeet June 2, 2014
Genius! I have a picky toddler and while he will eat polenta with sour cream and salty cheese, I love this variation for the next night.
Danny February 25, 2014
Merrill, this is genius. Just the other night I made polenta with Dom's mother's "sauce" and meatballs, but couldn't get the polenta to crisp up on the stovetop. But broiling! Why didn't I think of broiling? Totally putting this on the must-try list. And those photos of Clara are delicious as well.
Merrill S. February 25, 2014
Danny, so great to hear from you. Hope all's well, and that you like the polenta nuggets! XX
TheFarmGirlCooks February 24, 2014
You can also cut the polenta into 'fries' for dipping in marinara. Excellent recipe plus beautiful little lady :)
Mama D. February 23, 2014
This sounds wonderful...I too love mushy things and crispy fried things.your trasformation was wonderful
Kate H. February 23, 2014
The food sounds great, but the photos of your daughter are true works of art.
Merrill S. February 23, 2014
Thank you so much.
Paula Z. February 23, 2014
If you don't have a broiler (or if your's is out of commission), just throw these tasty bites into your trusted pan and brown them on the stove. You can also grill tehm on your panini press (open) or on your grill (cut them into somewhat larger flat pieces).
Merrill S. February 23, 2014
Just make sure to use oil, or a non-stick surface!
Paula Z. February 23, 2014
That's right, forgot all about it.
Paula Z. February 23, 2014
... And check the spelling: it's "them" of course!
Gail V. February 23, 2014
Great idea! Trying this next time I make polenta for myself (noone at my house likes it either) and have leftovers...
ChefJune February 20, 2014