Make Ahead

Polenta Squares with Sun-Dried Tomato and Walnut Tapenade

March 20, 2013
13 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 22 (recipe can easily be halved)
Author Notes

This is a forgiving and crowd-pleasing appetizer that you can easily modify by using different seasonal toppings. You can prepare the polenta up to 2 days in advance, and the tapenade up to 3 days. On the day of your party, simply broil the polenta squares and top them with the tapenade. —Gena Hamshaw

What You'll Need
  • Polenta Party Squares
  • 6 cups vegetable broth (low sodium if possible)
  • 2 cups polenta (yellow cornmeal)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 batch sun-dried tomato and walnut tapenade
  • Sun-dried Tomato and Walnut Tapenade
  • 3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil soaked)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup walnuts
  • 2 small cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Polenta Party Squares
  2. Bring the polenta, salt, and broth to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer. Using a long wooden spoon, continually stir the polenta until it has thickened (approximately 25-30 minutes). When the mixture is very thick and is pulling away from the sides of the pot, stir in the pepper and thyme.
  3. Oil a 15.25 x 10.25 baking sheet (or line with parchment paper). Spread the polenta mixture evenly over the sheet with an inverted knife. It should be about as thick as the edge of the pan itself. Allow it to cool, and then transfer to the fridge for a few hours.
  4. Preheat your broiler. Cut the polenta into squares (you should get about 22). Return them to a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Place under a broiler for 8 minutes, or until they're lightly toasted. You can alternately bake them at 375 for twenty-five minutes or so. Top each square with a tablespoon of tapenade, and serve.
  1. Sun-dried Tomato and Walnut Tapenade
  2. Boil the water and pour it over the tomatoes. Allow them to soften for 20 minutes. Discard most of the water (keep a half cup in case you need to thin the tapenade).
  3. Grind the walnuts in a food processor fitted with the S blade until they're finely ground. Add the tomatoes and garlic, and pulse to combine. Add the lemon, sea salt, pepper, and rosemary.
  4. Run the motor of the food processor and drizzle in the oil in a thin stream. If the mixture is still very thick, drizzle in some of the soak water from the tomatoes until it reaches the desired consistency. You're aiming for the consistency of regular tapenade, or a thick pesto.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Tippy Canoe
    Tippy Canoe
  • Taylor Stanton
    Taylor Stanton
  • Sharon Wegner
    Sharon Wegner
  • cucina di mammina
    cucina di mammina
  • Julie Ann Cook
    Julie Ann Cook

14 Reviews

Tippy C. January 5, 2020
I keep meaning to jump on and mention that this recipe has become an easy party staple in my house over the many years now that I have been using it. I remember that the first time I made it, I let the food processor go just a bit too long and the tapenade had a less appetizing color and consistency (but still tasted great). I am glad that I tried it a second time and stopped the processor in time for a more coarse consistency. It looks much better! I have made it many times since, and this year I took it to a Christmas party and three people asked for the recipe. Very easy to make and both kids and adults like it. Highly recommend.
Tippy C. January 5, 2020
I should add a few things as I just looked over comments. I use a very good Italian quick polenta and it takes just five minutes to cook. I chill it while I do other things then cut it into squares before the party. I have never had any trouble with consistency of the polenta. I usually make it with a vegetable broth so that it is vegan, and have never had it turn out dry or tasteless.
Ghazzzit March 17, 2019
Made this for a party app and it was a huge hit! Great recipe for many food restrictions (vegan/dairy/gluten-free).

It was the first time I was making polenta. I purchased "coarse yellow corn meal" from a bulk bin only to find out later this may not be the same thing as polenta. It certainly cooked up per the recipe, held its shape very well once cooled, and looked just like the recipe photo.

Based on other's comments about blandness, I adjusted salt/pepper/and thyme to taste towards the end of the marathon polenta cooking/stirring session. So that I didn't have to pay much attention to it, I baked the polenta squared for ~25 mins at 375 as suggested. A great lightly flavored base for a strongly flavored and beyond delicious tapenade.
Taylor S. December 28, 2017
This is really wonderful! Made as an appetizer for Christmas. I used mushroom broth for the polenta and forgot to add in herbs. I made the tapenade as is and it really is the most flavorful toothsome one. Broiling for 8-10 minutes yielded a beautiful texture - crispy and flavorful on the outside and creamy on the inside. Definitely a keeper :)
Sharon W. December 3, 2015
Wondering if anyone has made this polenta recipe lately. I am making polenta bites with caramelized onions and fig jam for 48 people. Can't afford to screw up. One person said it was tasteless and didn't hold it's shape. Any current comments?
eatveggiesdrinkwine October 15, 2017
I've had this saved for years and tried it recently. I had no issue with the polenta being too hard or too soft. I cooked it for a LONG time on the stove (probably closer to 45 minutes) and let it set overnight in the refrigerator. I then baked it at 400 for about 20 minutes before adding the topping. Don't skip the broiling/toasting step -- it seems essential to the texture. I added more salt & pepper than called for and used dried oregano instead of thyme, thinking this would help with any blandness issues. To be honest, I didn't really enjoy the taste of the polenta until it was in its final form (with a version of the tapenade and a basil leaf), so don't panic/worry if you taste it alone and don't love it. I used a slightly larger pan and liked that the polenta was thinner than shown in the photos. I would make it again if I needed an alternative to bread or cracker-based bites.
cucina D. February 28, 2014
we make grilled and and baked polenta whenever we have left overs from a meal or breakfast... love the mix of flavors in this topping and it's now been added to my food file.
Julie A. January 3, 2014
Made this tonight....and it was perfect!!! Thanks for sharing.
Cyberbyrd October 20, 2013
This did not work for me. I tried broiling for 8 minutes (too long). Then 4 minutes (too soft). Then I baked the rest for 25 minutes. Those were too soft as well. I expected them to hold their shape better. I don't think the physical results would have mattered much anyway, because the taste just wasn't there. I dumped polenta and will use the tapenade on a crisp of some sort (but probably won't make the tapenade again either. Very disappointing as they looked and sounded delicious.
Daniella P. June 3, 2013
I have to ask, how thick in height should the polenta squares be? cm/inches
For the Tapenade, will using oil soaked sundered tomato change the tapenade texture for the worse?
Ta! =)
[email protected] March 22, 2013
Beware of "sun dried" tomatoes. Most contain sulphur dioxide (yuck)
Best brand is L'Esprit de Campagne Sun Ripened Dried Tomatoes. They are all natural.
cucina D. February 28, 2014
I agree! I make my own here at home or buy an organic brand such as the one you mention above.
TheBlissfulChef March 22, 2013
This looks delicious!! Perfect party appetizer and great for kids too!
bugbitten March 20, 2013
Thanks! It;s very cool.