Polenta Al Forno is a quick and easy polenta and cheese oven baked dish. With a layer of sauteed spinach and ricotta in the middle this is a classic Italian comfort food. Your family will love the recipe and request it every single week! This spinach polenta bake can be your new go to meatless option that packs a flavor punch and requires only a small amount of effort.
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Vegetarian recipe: it can be nice to switch it up a little and have some meatless night's during the week. This vegetarian recipe ticks the meatless box without lacking flavours and textures.
- Family favorite: everyone of all ages can enjoy this baked polenta. The garlic is quite subtle and you can omit the cayenne pepper if you don't want any heat in the flavours.
- Simple ingredients: everything you need to make this Italian baked polenta recipe is simple and easy to find at your local shops.
- Versatile: serve this oven baked polenta as a main or smaller portions for pairing with other dishes. The dish is flexible and lends itself to a number of serving suggestions.
- Unique: we all love a huge comforting bowl of spaghetti bolognese from time to time but this recipe takes comfort food to another level. Using a combination of 4 different cheeses we create a simple recipe with maximum satisfaction and minimal effort.
The photo below is to show you everything you need to make the recipe. Please refer to the printable recipe card for specific ingredient measurements as well as detailed instructions.
As you can see the recipe calls for:
- Salt and pepper: we use a little salt and black pepper to season the spinach layer in the dish.
- Cayenne pepper: we add a small amount of this to have a little heat or spice in the recipe.
- Garlic: we cook this in the melted butter. You can use chopped garlic, chunky minced garlic or fresh garlic cloves that you dice.
- Butter: we use this to saute the garlic and wilt the spinach.
- Lemon zest: we add this to the spinach and cheese layer for a little citrus zing!
- Spinach: fresh and bright, this is the starring vegetable in the dish.
- Pecorino romano: this is the 1st of the 4 cheeses used in the dish. We need to finely grate it with a microplane zester. It is made from sheep's milk and offer's a slightly sweeter cheese to the other 3 which are all made from cow's milk.
- Parmesan cheese: a bold sharp cheese with an unmistakeable flavor. Again we need to grate this one with a zester.
- Cheddar cheese: it wouldn't be cheesy cheddar polenta without this cheese 😉🤣! This is soft and stringy without any too intense flavours. This one is best grated with a handheld or box grater.
- Ricotta cheese: soft, creamy and subtle this cheese helps us to create a paste like texture combining the cheeses and spinach. This then forms the centre layer of the polenta bake. This is the only one we don't keep a little of on the side to sprinkle on top.
- Butter: we add a little of this to the polenta for flavor as well as ensuring the texture is super creamy.
- Salt: a little salt gets added to the polenta for seasoning.
- Water: we use quite a lot of water to cook the polenta. It gets absorbed as the polenta cooks. I have shown it in the photo above so that you know you need it. We use 2 types. The 1st is room temperature water and the 2nd is boiling water. (I use the kettle to boil the 2nd lot of water 👌😉).
- Polenta: is ground cornmeal. It is excellent to use as a pasta alternative. Holds its own and pairs well with a large variety of dishes. It cooks quickly and requires only stirring on the stove whilst adding liquids.
Tasty Tip: I like to provide you with a number of substitutions and variations giving you an array of options when making my recipes. If in doubt of any of the above ingredients, or wanting alternatives, read this section (further below) before jumping into the instructions on how to make the recipe which are coming next 😉👌.
Here are the step by step instructions to make the baked polenta with ricotta. We start by sauteing the garlic and spinach.
- Add butter to frying pan (Photo 1)
- Cook garlic, salt and pepper for 1 minute (Photo 2)
- Saute the spinach leaves with the cayenne pepper (Photo 3)
- Combine the 4 cheeses in a mixing bowl (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Polenta Al Forno
We start by placing a large frying pan on the stove top, turning the heat to high and adding the butter.
Let this melt and then add the garlic, salt and pepper. Cook these for 1 minute until the garlic is a little golden brown.
Next add the spinach leaves and cayenne pepper. Saute these for 2 - 3 minutes until the spinach wilts.
The grab a medium size bowl and add the ricotta cheese, cheddar cheese, pecorino romano and parmesan cheese. Stir these to combine and then add the cooked spinach.
- Add cooked spinach (Photo 5)
- Add lemon zest (Photo 6)
- Stir to combine (Photo 7)
- Add polenta and salt to frying pan (Photo 8)
Next, sprinkle in the lemon zest and then stir to combine. This mixture can be set aside now as we turn to making the polenta.
Without rinsing or cleaning the pan that we cooked the spinach in add it back to the stove, turn the heat to high and add the polenta and salt.
Next pour in the room temperature water like shown in the photos below.
- Add the room temperature water (Photo 9)
- Then pour in the boiling water (Photo 10)
- Add the butter (Photo 11)
- Layer cooked polenta into baking dish (Photo 12)
Then add the boiling water and continue stirring the polenta as the water gets absorbed.
When the polenta starts to pull away from the sides of the pan add the knobs of butter and allow them to melt and mix in with the cornmeal.
Spray a baking dish with cooking oil and then layer in half of the soft polenta. Use a wooden spoon to push and spread it out to form a base layer.
- Spread spinach cheese layer on top of the polenta (Photo 13)
- Top with another polenta layer (Photo 14)
- Sprinkle the 3 cheeses over the top (Photo 15)
- Bake for 20 - 25 minutes (Photo 16)
Next spread the spinach cheese mixture out to form its own layer on top of the polenta.
Then top that with the remaining polenta, gently using a spoon to push it out so that it forms a top flat layer.
Then grab the leftovers of the 3 cheeses and mix them together in a bowl and then sprinkle these over the top of the polenta.
Pop the baking dish into the oven (middle shelf) and let it bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
You will know when it is ready as the cheese will have melted, there will be golden brown peaks and if you push the top of it gently with your finger tip it will be firm and a little bouncy to the touch.
Once all that is done, you can grab some forks and spoons, bowls or plates and get ready to serve the dish.
I like to garnish it with some black pepper and parsley for a little extra texture, colour and seasoning. You can do the same 😉👍.
🍽 Serving Suggestions
Do you fancy this as a satisfying meal in one or to use as small portions on the side of a meaty main?
Both options will work.
If you prefer a chicken option, the polenta will pair nicely with the Chicken Ribs.
It will go down a treat with many of the above options and more!
Is it lunch yes, does it work for dinner, yes, does it go down nicely with a glass of pinot gris, why funny you should ask it does!
For a red wine pairing I recommend a pinot noir.
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Store leftovers in the fridge on a plate with cling wrap or in a sealed, airtight container. They will last for 3-4 days and need to be reheated before being consumed.
How to Reheat
Reheat leftovers in the microwave on a plate covered with cling film for 2 minutes on high.
Or if you have a lot leftover in your baking dish, you can add that back to the oven (preheat it to make it faster). It will take 10 to 15 minutes to reheat in the oven.
I don't recommend freezing the dish as doing so can have mixed results with the spinach cheese layer defrosting and being excessively watery.
So bake, make, eat and enjoy without freezing is my top tip 😉👌👩🍳👍!
😉 Substitutions and Variations
Here are my sub ins and outs that you might be thinking about as you read the post and I will tell you if I think they will work or why they won't:
- If you want to add some additional vegetables you can add some sliced mushrooms when you are cooking the spinach. Or you can push cherry tomatoes into the top layer of the polenta.
- If you want to add meat, you can cook some chopped bacon and add it to the spinach and cheese layer.
- Other cheese options that you can use are: Swiss cheese, fontina, gruyere or provolone.
- If you want to add a dried herb try a ½ teaspoon of either dried basil or rosemary.
💡 Tasty Tips
Here are my top tips and tricks that I want to share with you so that you master the recipe from the get go:
- The size of the baking dish that I use to make the recipe and that you see in the photos is 30 cm or 12 inches. It also has a 2 inch rim to it. The smaller your baking dish the taller your slices of baked polenta will be. The larger your dish, the thinner your slices. I would not go larger than the 30cm/12 inch size, but a smaller dish is fine if that is what you have.
- A wooden spoon will come in handy as you need to use it each to cook the spinach, the polenta and to push the layers into the baking dish.
- We only need one pan for the recipe and you don't need to wash or rinse it after cooking the spinach and garlic before cooking the polenta.
- When you get to the layering steps you have to work reasonably quickly so that the polenta doesn't firm up too much to push it into a flat layer.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
What does al forno mean in English?
The Italian expression 'al forno' refers to food that has been baked in the oven.
What is polenta al forno made of?
Polenta Al Forno is oven baked polenta. It can have a wide variety of additional ingredients including vegetables, meats and with or without sauce options.
What kind of dish is polenta?
Polenta is an Italian dish made from ground corn. It is an excellent substitute for pasta and holds sauces exceptionally well.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
There are 7 nights in a week and we need a recipe up our sleeve for each one of them! Here are some options that you can turn to which offer a variety of tastes, textures, proteins and cook times.
- Bacon Risotto
- Spaghetti with Alfredo Sauce
- Crispy Fried Mushrooms
- Panko Fried Pork Chops
- Mushroom and Spinach Risotto
- Easy Chicken and Chorizo Paella Recipe
- Wagyu Beef Burgers
- Crumbed Lamb Cutlets
- Penne Alfredo
It is time to get our polenta on my friend and a whole lot of cheese! It wouldn't be a 'Winner, Winner Polenta Dinner' without it would it 😉🤣👍. You can also find all of my vegetarian recipes in the one spot.
Polenta Al Forno (Spinach Polenta Bake)
Spinach and Cheese
- 40 grams/3 tbs butter unsalted
- 1 tablespoon garlic chunky, minced
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 6 cups baby spinach leaves
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 2 cups cheddar cheese Grated using a box grater. Reserve 1 tablespoon to sprinkle over the top of the polenta before baking.
- ½ cup parmesan cheese Finely grated using a microplane zester. Reserve 1 tablespoon to sprinkle over the top of the polenta before baking.
- ½ cup pecorino romano cheese Finely grated using a microplane zester. Reserve 1 tablespoon to sprinkle over the top of the polenta before baking.
- 2 tablespoon lemon zest finely grated using a microplane zester
- 2 cups polenta Note 1
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups/500ml room temperature water
- 2 ½ cups/625ml boiling water
- 40 grams/3 tbs butter unsalted
- black pepper
- parsely finely chopped
- Preheat the oven: preheat the oven to 180°C / 350-375°F / Gas Mark 4-5.
- Saute spinach: place a large frying pan onto the stove top, turn the heat to high. Add the butter and let it melt. Then add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the spinach leaves and cayenne pepper. Let the spinach wilt, stirring for 1 - 2 minutes.
- Spinach and cheese: add the ricotta cheese, cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese and pecorino romano to a mixing bowl. Then add the cooked spinach and stir to combine. Set aside for now.
- Polenta: without rinsing or cleaning the pan that you used to cook the spinach, place it back on the stove with the heat on high and add the dried polenta, salt and room temperature water. Then pour in the boiling water. Cook until the polenta comes away from the insides of the pan.
- Baking dish: spray a large baking dish with cooking spray. Then portion half of the cooked polenta into the bottom of the dish and use a wooden spoon to portion into one flat layer. Pile the spinach and ricotta cheese mixture on top of the polenta and spread to form its own layer. Then spread the remaining polenta on top of the spinach layer. Sprinkle reserved cheddar, parmesan cheese and pecorino romano on top.
- Oven bake: place the baking dish into the oven on the middle shelf. Allow it to bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown. Once cooked use oven mits to remove the baking dish from the oven and place it onto a heatproof surface.
- Garnish: sprinkle black pepper and finely chopped parsley over the top of the dish and serve immediately.
- Note 1 - Polenta: you will find this in the flours and spices section of the supermarket. It might be called 'Instant Polenta'. It is not cornflour, rather 'cornmeal'. It is bright yellow in colour.
- Baking dish size: the dish used in the recipe and photos throughout the post is 30 cm or 12 inches with a 2 inch depth. This size or smaller will work, I don't recommend using a larger size baking dish.
- Serving size: this will depend on how you want to serve the dish be it a side or main. There is plenty to go around!