Polenta Al Forno with Collard Greens
Polenta al forno. A fancy way of saying “oven-baked” polenta, but the name adds a certain je nais se quoi, am I right? This delicious polenta dish makes a wonderful main course!
This cheesy polenta dish is the epitome of rustic, comfort Italian food.
This version is stuffed with collard greens, cheddar, and ricotta cheese. It’s worth nothing that this polenta recipe shines best when prepared with homemade ricotta (the polenta is cooked in the resulting whey liquid).
However if you’re not up to the added prep time, feel free to substitute a high-quality store-bought ricotta and water in place of whey.
This dish is similar to a layered lasagna . The base for this dish is soft polenta and we’ll add a generous layer of cheesy collard greens. Just before baking, we’ll top the final layer of polenta with more parmesan and cheddar cheese!
It lightly browns and caramelizes during baking.
Since the dish is relatively hearty and rich (yet not overly so), I recommend serving it as a main course. It pairs wonderfully with a big hearty salad and also tastes great on top of some homemade tomato sauce.
Though the dish takes some time to put together (about 2 hours from start to finish, though most of the time is not active), it can be made and refrigerated ahead of time.
Polenta Al Forno with Collard Greens, Cheddar and Ricotta
- 1 lb (16 oz) collard greens
- 1 cup medium or fine polenta (cornmeal)
- 5 cups leftover whey liquid (from homemade ricotta) or water
- kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups homemade ricotta or store-bought whole fat ricotta
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- zest of 1 lemon
- 5 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
- 4½ ounces freshly grated sharp white cheddar cheese
- softened unsalted butter for greasing the baking dish
- Cook the Collard Greens: Clean collard greens and remove any tough stems (I personally like to keep a little bit of the stem on). Roll several leaves at a time, similar to a chiffonade technique, and cut into about 1-inch strips. This doesn’t have to be exact, but try to keep the pieces relatively consistent in size.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add all of the collard greens and blanch for two minutes. Drain collards in a large colander and allow to cool completely. Squeeze the collard greens of any excess moisture and chop finely.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) with a rack in the center position.
- Cook The Polenta: Add whey liquid to a medium-sized saucepan (4 quarts or larger) and bring to a boil. Season with salt. Slowly pour in the polenta, in a steady fine stream, into the boiling liquid, stirring continuously with a stiff, metal whisk or wooden spoon. Whisk continuously for an additional three minutes, until the polenta begins to slightly thicken. Turn down the heat to a low simmer and cook for an additional 40 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the polenta is cooked completely. Depending on your stove, check regularly to ensure that the polenta is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If the polenta gets too thick or difficult to stir, add a small amount of water at a time (you may need to add up to an additional cup of liquid) to thin it down. Once the polenta is completely cooked, stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. Start assembling the dish immediately.
- Assemble: In a bowl, combine the chopped collard greens, ricotta cheese, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, lemon zest, and 3 tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and all but 3 tablespoons of the grated cheddar. Mix well with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Lightly butter a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish. Spoon half of the batch of soft polenta into the baking dish and spread into a thin layer with an offset spatula. Spoon the collard green mixture evenly over the surface, spreading it into a thin layer. Top with the remaining soft polenta and spread to smooth the surface. The polenta layer will seem very thin, don’t worry if some of the collard green mixture can be seen though the top. This dish can be prepared to this stage, covered well, and refrigerated overnight. Allow to com to room temperature before baking.
- Sprinkle the top of the polenta with the remaining grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and cheddar.
- Bake, uncovered, for 40 to 50 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.