polenta side dishes

What To Serve With Polenta?

Polenta is a classic Italian dish that many like to prepare any time of the year. If you have ever made it, you know how tasty it is with any meat or vegetable. Instead of wondering which food to choose to go along with polenta, try any of these options below.

In this article, we will tell you the best side dishes for polenta. You will also find out how to prepare any of these recipes.

What Is Polenta?

Polenta is a porridge-like dish made with boiled cornmeal. For the most part, you prepare polenta with yellow corn, but in some cases, it can contain white corn or buckwheat. When you use a coarser grind, the polenta will be thicker, but the commercial kinds are always thinner.

While the origin of polenta is Italian, back in the Roman days, the dish had farro, millet, wheat flour, and chickpeas. These days, the classic polenta recipe involves water, butter, salt, and cornmeal. However, you can also add cheese, like Parmesan, stock, and marinara sauce.

Cooking polenta can take some time but is not too difficult overall. For one cup of polenta, you will need four cups of water or stock. Once the water is boiling, you can add the polenta and reduce the heat but continue mixing until the water is absorbed and the polenta is smooth.

Recently, polenta has become very popular as a healthy alternative to more starchy and heavy dishes, like pasta or pizza. In some cases, it might even make part of sweet dishes, like tarts. The flavors in polenta are subtle, so many people like to use seasonings and flavors, such as lemon, thyme, bay leaf, and more.

Nutrition Facts

One cup of cooked polenta with butter (240 g) has the following nutritional content (*):

  • 170 calories
  • 203 g water
  • 2.66 g protein
  • 4.37 g fat
  • 29.4 g carbohydrate
  • 1.44 g fiber
  • 0.6 g sugar
  • 9.6 mg calcium
  • 1.54 mg iron
  • 14.4 mg magnesium
  • 36 mg phosphorus
  • 50.4 mg potassium
  • 199 mg sodium
  • 3.84 µg selenium
  • 40.8 µg vitamin A
  • 7.2 mg cholesterol

In most cases, polenta is a very healthy dish, particularly when you prepare it at home. Be careful with pre-made polenta, as it can be high in fat and sodium. You can prepare it without any fat if you want to save calories too.

What to Eat Polenta With?

Below are some options for side dishes every time you wonder what to eat with polenta:

#1. Lemon Chicken Paillard

Chicken is always a good pairing to serve with polenta, particularly if it includes some sour flavors too. This recipe is easy to prepare and very delicious all around!

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts, halved
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your lemon chicken paillard:

  1. With a meat mallet or hammer, pound the chicken breast halves by placing them between a sheet of parchment paper. Your chicken should become longer and thinner.
  2. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
  3. In a skillet, warm up the olive oil and add garlic. Allow it to get hot.
  4. In the meantime, pass every piece of chicken through the flour bowl, and cover both sides entirely.
  5. Place the floured chicken on the skillet and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, flipping them once. 
  6. Remove the chicken and place it on a plate. 
  7. Add the chicken broth and lemon to the skillet. Scrape up the brown bits, and add the chicken to the skillet.
  8. Cook the chicken for another 5 minutes. Add the capers and cook for another minute.
  9. Serve your lemon chicken paillard warm with the polenta.

#2. Garlic Butter Shrimp

This garlic butter shrimp is a classic meal to serve with pasta, but why not try it with polenta? 

Not only is it easy to prepare, but it also packs a ton of flavors that complement your polenta.

Ingredients:

  • ½ stick butter
  • 1 lb shrimp, deveined and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your garlic butter shrimp:

  1. Add the butter to a skillet, once it begins to melt, add the garlic.
  2. Place the shrimp in the skillet and cook for 3 minutes or until they turn pink. Remove them from the skillet.
  3. Stir in the lemon juice and the Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper.
  4. Finish off by adding the fresh parsley. Return the shrimp to the skillet and toss everything well.
  5. Serve your shrimp warm with the polenta.

#3. Truffle Oil Sauteed Mushrooms

Mushrooms are always a good idea when it comes to polenta. This recipe is decadent and combines a ton of flavor and aroma from the truffle oil.

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ stick butter
  • 2 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon truffle oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your truffle oil sauteed mushrooms:

  1. In a skillet, add the butter and add the garlic. Once the butter melts, add the mushrooms.
  2. Cook everything for about 10 minutes or until all the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates.
  3. Add the shallot and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the truffle oil and reduce heat. Simmer for a few more minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Finish off by adding the chopped fresh parsley.
  7. Serve the truffle oil-sauteed mushrooms warm with your polenta.

#4. Spicy Italian Sausage Bolognese

If pasta is not your favorite, or you want a change, why not try this spicy Italian sausage bolognese with the polenta? You can make it on the stove or adjust it if you have a slow cooker or a pressure cooker.

Ingredients:

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 oz. ground Italian sausage (about 1 package)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • ⅓ cup red wine or 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your spicy Italian sausage bolognese:

  1. Add the olive oil to a large pot and warm it up over medium heat.
  2. Once warm, add the garlic and onion, and cook for about 5 minutes. 
  3. Add the ground sausage, season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the red wine, tomato paste, and diced tomatoes. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until all the wine has evaporated.
  5. Add the beef broth and red pepper flakes, and continue simmering for another 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
  6. Serve your spicy Italian sausage bolognese next to your polenta.

#5. Roasted Eggplant and Asparagus

This roasted eggplant and asparagus recipe is an easy dish to whip up in a few minutes. You can serve it with more vegetables, including zucchini, red bell pepper, or mushrooms.

Ingredients:

  • Bunch of asparagus
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your roasted eggplant and asparagus:

  1. Begin by preheating your oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Wash your vegetables. Slice the eggplant into large slices.
  3. Trim the ends of your asparagus.
  4. Line a baking sheet with tin foil, and then place your vegetables on it.
  5. Mix the olive oil, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and parsley in a small bowl.
  6. Sprinkle the oil mix on your vegetables and place the tray in your oven.
  7. Roast the vegetables for 40 to 50 minutes, or until they are tender and brown. Remember to turn them halfway.
  8. Check your eggplant, as this one takes longer to cook. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and toss once more.
  9. Serve your vegetables warm with your polenta.

#6. Lamb Chops with a Mint Sauce

While not many dare to make lamb at home, this is a delicious recipe that is pretty fool-proof regardless of how much a cook you are. If mint is not your favorite, switch it up for parsley or cilantro instead.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lamb chops
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoon mint, chopped 
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your lamb chops with mint sauce:

  1. Generously season your lamb chops with salt and pepper. Set them aside.
  2. In a bowl, combine half the olive oil, garlic, white wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, and mint. Mix well.
  3. Add the other half of the olive oil to a grill skillet. Allow it to get warm, then add the lamb chops. Sear each one for about 3 to 4 minutes, turning them halfway through.
  4. Remove your lamb chops from the skillet and place them on a plate.
  5. Pour the sauce over your lamb chops and serve warm next to your polenta.

#7. Cannellini Beans and Tomato Stew

Another Italian delicacy that goes well with your polenta is a good plate of cannellini beans. You can add tomatoes and spices to make this dish much more filling, but you could also add some beef or pork to make it even denser.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Follow these steps to prepare your cannellini beans and tomato stew:

  1. In a large saucepan, add olive oil and garlic. Once hot, add the yellow onion and cook for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the cannellini beans, diced tomatoes, and broth. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
  3. Season with Italian seasoning, garam masala, salt, and pepper.
  4. Keep simmering for another 10 minutes or until the stew has thickened.
  5. Serve your cannellini beans and tomato stew warm with the polenta on the side.

How Can I Pick The Perfect Polenta Side Dish?

Preparing polenta is such an easy yet rewarding experience that many like to do it many times a month. You can always choose a side dish that is equally easy to prepare or a more complex recipe. Either way, be sure to think carefully about which side dish goes well with your polenta and when it does.

For a creamy polenta with cheese, you want something that cuts through the density of flavors and textures. A good option would be the spicy Italian sausage bolognese, which adds more flavor and complements the cheese. You could also go with the lemon chicken paillard that is also easy to make but full of flavor.

If your polenta is seasoned well and contains no cheese, you should go with fresh but filling flavors. Try preparing the garlic butter shrimp, which takes minutes to make but is very tasty. When you feel more daring, try the lamb chops with a mint sauce that is complex yet satisfying.

Finally, for a polenta made entirely with vegetarian ingredients, why not keep things veggie-friendly? You can serve it with roasted eggplant and asparagus for a quick and easy side dish. You could also go with the truffle oil-sauteed mushrooms and add more umami to your meal or the cannellini beans and tomato stew for a more filling vegetarian feast.

Conclusion

These recipes are all a fantastic choice when it comes to preparing a polenta meal. You could make one, two, or three of these dishes. Combine flavors if you feel more adventurous, and you will see your polenta shine.

*image by myviewpoint/depositphotos

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