Honest Fare

Pretty Provisions and Notes from the Kitchen

Mushroom & Herb Polenta Cakes

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Mushroom & Herb Polenta Cakes, Honest Fare by Gabrielle Arnold

I recently made this little set of serving dishes and glazed them pale whitish yellow. And for some reason, since the moment I took them out of the kiln, I’ve been stuck on cooking something yellow in them. In a tonal mood, I guess. So I thought about everything yellow—zucchini, corn, lemons, bananas…and on and on until I got to polenta.

As much as I love Italian food, polenta has never become part of my kitchen repertoire. I’m generally turned off by the stuff because of the prepared form it’s commonly sold in. You know, that plastic wrapped yellow log found next to the Prego tomato sauce. Like I’m just supposed to slice off a piece and eat it? What is it, like the starch equivalent of Spam or something? But, the yellow log is not what polenta is all about.

Polenta, dubbed “Italian grits,” is like many other “mush” type foods in that it has its links to poverty. Northern Italians subsisted on little more than the cornmeal-based dish for centuries—working the fields all day, and then coming home to a plate of humble, yet versatile and satisfying polenta. Some say polenta is truly a national dish with more history than pizza and pasta.


Either way, it’s yellow. Plus, I can always get down with some grits, so this past weekend I decided to make polenta (from scratch, of course).

Now, “from scratch” when you’re talking about polenta means water + cornmeal. Pretty basic. They sell Italian polenta mix in the store, which is essentially just stone ground cornmeal, but I just used straight up cornmeal (medium/coarse grain). Same thing. In the past, I’ve always made creamy polenta to be eaten out of a bowl, but this time I wanted to get a little more creative with it so I did cakes. Lightly fried mushroom and herb polenta cakes topped in roasted tomatoes.

When I set out to do this, I assumed I’d be in for an annoying step-by-step, process based experience, but the truth is it wasn’t bad at all. I enjoyed it. And the kitchen didn’t even get as messy as I thought it would.

After cooking the polenta in boiling water and stirring until nice and creamy, I added ½ a cup of shredded mozzarella cheese and my baby portabellas and scallions, which had been seasoned and sautéed in olive oil.


Then I evenly spread the mixture across a baking sheet; placed a piece of parchment paper over it and patted it down with my hands before pressing the bottom of another baking sheet on it to compact it further into form. Then I put it in the fridge to cool and solidify into one giant slab. All of the above took about 20-25 minutes.

Fast-forward 12 hours. I pulled a Martha Stewart and used triangle shaped paper stencils to cut out eight perfect, three-sided polenta cakes.


Fighting my inclination to bake everything that tastes better fried, I decided to lightly fry them in olive oil. Glad I did. Then I topped them with Romano cheese and thyme and served them with some simple roasted grape tomatoes.


It was incredible.


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Recipe makes 8-10 medium-sized polenta cakes. Be sure to dice up the mushrooms and scallions into very small pieces or they’ll break the cakes apart. Suggestion: You can have the polenta chilling on a baking sheet overnight so all you have to do is cut out the cakes when you’re ready to fry or bake them. I thought these were excellent served with roasted grape tomatoes, but it’s up to you!

You need:

  • 1 cup med/coarse cornmeal
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup diced brown mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup diced scallions
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Romano cheese for topping
  • Thyme for topping
  • Grape tomatoes(optional serving suggestion)
  • Rosemary (for tomatoes)


  1. Finely dice mushrooms and scallions. Sauté in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic on medium heat. Remove from heat when scallions are soft. About 4 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Bring 4 cups water to an almost boil in a large pot. Lower heat and slowly add one cup of polenta while stirring so it doesn’t clump. Stir until polenta is creamy and begins to thicken. Add salt (start with a 1/2 teaspoon and add more to taste) and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Continue cooking and stirring for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in mushrooms and scallions.
  3. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread polenta evenly across using back of a spoon or spatula. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper. Flatten, smooth and form nice edges by gliding your hands across top of parchment paper. Put in fridge to cool for at least 1 hour.
  4. Once a solid polenta slab has formed, it’s time to cut out the cakes. Pat slab dry with paper towels if any moisture has formed. Cut out cakes (squares, triangles, circles, whatever) using stencil if desired.
  5. Coat bottom of pan in olive oil and heat to medium high heat. Place a cake on the pan and DON’T move it. Let it fry for 2-3 minutes per side untouched. Flip and repeat.
  6. Drain on paper towels. Top with grated Romano cheese and fresh thyme before serving.
  7. For the roasted tomatoes: Just toss grape tomatoes in a little olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until blistering and slightly browning at peaks. Serve hot atop polenta or on the side.



  1. Posted March 17, 2010 at 3:44 PM | Permalink

    1) These look delicious. 2) They looked delicious when I saw the WHOLE POST in my Google Reader, which made me happy. No worries, I’ll make sure to still click through every time I’m not on my BlackBerry, but thanks so much for going full feed!

  2. Posted March 17, 2010 at 4:02 PM | Permalink

    We recently made a fabulous polenta spinach pesto lasagna that was fabulous. I’d never had polenta before and now I’m sold. I can’t wait to make this!

  3. Hallie
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 4:35 PM | Permalink

    Found you from Tastespotting and just wanted to compliment you on your strikingly beautiful blog design. I love the white background, the labeled icons at the top and the clean lines. Plus what you’re cooking looks great too.

  4. Posted March 18, 2010 at 12:19 PM | Permalink

    You and your blog of recipes brings good food into my home. With a boyfriend who thinks MacDonald’s is real food, it’s sort of a game we play together to get him to try new-tritious and delicious things. Thank you for helping me in this endeavor.


  5. gabi
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 12:20 PM | Permalink

    Well, luckily I have a veggie burger recipe coming up soon–we’ll have to see how that compares to his Mickey D’s!

  6. Posted March 18, 2010 at 3:18 PM | Permalink

    the dishes and the dish – that’s talent.

  7. gabi
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 3:20 PM | Permalink

    Why thank you, Alec :)

  8. Posted March 18, 2010 at 6:39 PM | Permalink

    I cannot wait to try this using the chantrelles I’ve been collecting near my house lately. Love your site and food, I always look forward to new posts.

  9. Posted March 18, 2010 at 9:35 PM | Permalink

    i love the way you took the main photo! i had completely forgotten that you’re into ceramics but i love these pretty little yellow serving dishes. do you remember the little green and grey ceramic box you made me forever ago? i still use it to hold my precious treasures in :)


  10. gabi
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 10:03 PM | Permalink

    Of course I remember! I’m trying really had to picture it exactly…okay, I think I see it now. Glad it’s still in your hands ;)

  11. Posted March 19, 2010 at 4:56 PM | Permalink

    I made polenta fries this week for the first time. I love them. These are similar, but not. I CAN’T WAIT to try them. WONDERFUL pictures too. Seriously, I am salivating!

  12. Posted March 19, 2010 at 6:23 PM | Permalink

    these just look sensational. I love the little tomatoes cooked with them too and your photos just make everything pop! Your pottery is wonderful too – creative gal you are.

  13. Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:37 AM | Permalink

    Oh my, this looks scrumptious and gorgeous! I recently discovered polenta as well and eager to try this!

  14. Posted March 21, 2010 at 7:24 AM | Permalink

    I have been lurking on your blog thanks to Pacing the Panic Room. Everything looks wonderful, and I especially love your pictures! This dish looks amazing, and I look forward to trying it. Thanks!

  15. Celeste
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:48 AM | Permalink

    Delicious! I especially love the tomatoes on top.

  16. Posted August 17, 2010 at 1:57 PM | Permalink

    Hi. Your recipe inspired me to make my own variation. I like to healthify all the recipes and here is my twist on your wonderful creation. http://cuceesprouts.com/2010/08/cheesy-zucchini-polenta-cakes-with-mushroom-duxelles/
    The outcome: creamy inside and crunchy on the outside, these cakes are healthy and still very satisfying. Zucchinis add sweetness and color to the cakes, making them pretty to look at.

  17. Kristen
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 9:46 AM | Permalink

    Tried this recipe last night. The first few I tried to fry became mushy and stuck to the bottom of the pan. I baked the next batch and they were divine. SOO good.

    I think the mush was the result of a few things:
    1) the polenta didn’t cool long enough (too watery)
    2) too much olive oil in the pan
    3) no amazing cast iron frying pan

    any tips to a pretty golden crust?

  18. gabi
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 12:11 PM | Permalink

    Hi! Glad it worked out for you in the end. Yes, fully chilling the polenta before frying it is pretty crucial otherwise it will get mushy and lose its form. To get that nice golden crust, make sure the oil is hot enough (but not smoking hot or they’ll burn) and then when you place the polenta cakes on the pan, don’t move them at all until you’re ready to flip them. That should help.

  19. Thea
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 10:26 PM | Permalink

    Hello there. I’m new to your site, but this is a lovely introduction to what it is you do here. I have been wanting to make something with the big box of polenta I have and decided to poke around online to get some new ideas. This sounds like it would be right up my street, and it’s not inordinately complicated or time-consuming, especially in proportion to how delicious it looks. So, thanks for putting this out there. As many other commentators have noted, your dishes are also beautiful. They look almost good enough to eat themselves. :) I am now led to wonder what you would have cooked if the dishes were red or blue…

  20. Kathryn
    Posted February 19, 2011 at 10:43 AM | Permalink


    I want to bring these polenta squares to a meeting, which means they have to sit and wait about two hours before being served. Do I keep them warm in the oven or cold in the fridge or just leave them out (covered) on the counter?

  21. gabi
    Posted February 19, 2011 at 5:17 PM | Permalink

    I’d warm them up and then let them sit out until they’re ready. They’ll be great room temp. And, unless you can just heat up right before serving to have a hot element, I’d do the same with the tomatoes…room temp and keep them on the side so everyone can spoon them on.

  22. Posted December 31, 2011 at 7:59 PM | Permalink

    I tried this without the tomatoes (didn’t have any and didn’t feel like going out to get any). It was still delicious.

  23. Letitia Hall
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:16 PM | Permalink

    I very much enjoyed this recipe, thanks~

One Trackback

  1. By big winds on November 19, 2012 at 3:57 AM

    really like it…

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