These Crispy Baked Polenta Fries are such a fun appetizer! Creamy cheese-laced polenta is spread in a pan, baked and then cut into “fries.” They’re brushed with olive oil, baked and served with a spicy tomato dipping sauce. Creamy on the outside, crispy on the outside, and completely addictive.
Baked Polenta Fries
I know I proclaim to have many food loves of my life, but I have another one for you – polenta. The way in which it’s served doesn’t matter to me, because I’ll take it any way I can get my hands on it.
- Ultra creamy with butter, cream and truffles
- Under a bed of spicy tomato sauce and perfectly poached eggs
- Fried up until crisp and golden brown, but still soft on the inside
- In crouton form
- If fry form, just like today’s Baked polenta fries.
This version of baked polenta fries of course has that perfectly crispy fry texture with a super creamy interior, but we also have hints of woodsy rosemary and plenty of nutty parmesan cheese interspersed throughout the creamy polenta. Once the fries are crispy and baked, you can nibble on them as is, or dunk them in a super quick spicy tomato sauce for dipping.
I can’t remember the first time I tried polenta, but I’ve been smitten with it for quite some time. My most memorable polenta experience happened a few years back when I was in Miami for a girlfriend’s bachelorette party. A handful of us girls went out for an ultra upscale dinner at Scarpetta, where we embarked on a phenomenal multi-course Italian meal, starting with an appetizer of creamy polenta that was literally life-changing.
My friend and I practically inhaled the entire bowl in virtual silence aside from the occasional breath and “Omg!” proclamation. I’ll never forget the velvety texture of the polenta, coupled with the earthiness of those truffled mushrooms; it was pretty much like heaven on a very delicious earth.
I’ve been trying to replicate the polenta ever since, but have come up short each time, but trust me, when I do finally perfect it, the first thing I’m going to do is post it here, because everyone needs to try it once in their lifetime. But for now, I’ll have to settle for a polenta recipe I can perfect.
Crispy Baked Polenta fries.
Ingredients in Baked Polenta Fries
The baked polenta fries themselves have very minimal ingredients, here’s what you need:
Water. You can technically use water or chicken stock here. I really wanted the goat cheese to shine through, and I also wanted to still have a lot of that corneal texture so I stuck with just water.
Cornmeal. Since we’re not making something like Shrimp and Grits, that requires a more textured version of cornmeal, you can really use an type of general cornmeal.
Rosemary. A little bit of dried rosemary goes a long way and adds such a lovely aroma to the baked polenta fries.
Parmesan cheese. I love the slightly nutty flavor parmesan gives these baked polenta fries, but pecorino, Romano, or even goat cheese would also be a lovely addition.
Chickpea flour or all purpose flour. Chickpea flour may seem like a strange ingredient, but my favorite tapas restaurant in KC has the best polenta fries and they fry them in chickpea flour, so I do too. It’s light and crisps up beautifully. However, if you don’t have chickpea flour, can’t find it, or just don’t want to spend the additional money on it, all-purpose flour works just fine as well.
The tomato sauce.
Tomatoes. A small 14-oz can of crushed tomatoes is what you’ll need. You can also buy diced or whole tomatoes and crush them yourself or have a little bit of texture in your tomato sauce.
Garlic. Because what’s a spicy tomato sauce without garlic?
Salt and sugar. I always add in a little bit of sugar to balance out the acidity in the tomatoes. Salt is obviously used to season the spicy tomato sauce.
Red pepper flakes. Crushed red pepper flakes add the perfect amount of spicy to the spicy tomato sauce. Use less or more depending on your spice tolerance.
How to make Polenta
Typically when I make polenta at home, I’ll use instant polenta, just to save time, but I have to say, I now prefer the texture better when it’s made with cornmeal. Even though it takes a bit longer to cook, the final product is so soft and creamy, without the slightest hint of grit.
- Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil. You can also use chicken or vegetable stock.
- Very very slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Keep whisking until it’s all incorporated. Now, you are supposed to whisk constantly for about 20 minutes, but I cheat and just whisk every 30 seconds to a minute, it still yields a super creamy polenta.
- At this point if I’m going with a creamy polenta, I take it off the heat and add in a few pats of butter and cream (or milk); but since I wanted the polenta to be firm when cooled for the fries, I took it off the heat, threw in my crushed rosemary and parmesan cheese and skipped the added butter and cream.
- Working quickly, pour the soft polenta into a small greased sheet pan, spread evenly and let cool completely. What’s nice about this step is you can make and chill the polenta a couple days in advance, which is what I did.
“Fry” the Baked Polenta Fries
Once you’re ready to bake them up, invert onto a cutting board and cut into fry shapes. Coat in a little bit of chickpea flour or all-purpose flour, line ‘em up on a baking sheet, spray with non-stick cooking spray and bake until super crispy.
While the fries are baking, I whip up a quick spicy tomato dipping sauce. Here’s how I do it.
- Add garlic and olive oil to a small saucepan. Saute over a medium-low heat until fragrant.
- Pour in canned tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes.
- Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Serve warm.
Once the fries are fresh out of the oven I like to dust them with a little bit of grated parmesan cheese and kosher salt for a finishing touch.
Can I make Baked Polenta Fries in Advance?
Yes! In fact, I’d hight recommend it. I like to make the polenta portion the day before. Pour in the pan, cool completely and cover with plastic wrap. Store in the fridge for up to two days.
When you’re ready to serve, cut them into fries and bake as instructed.
Are Baked Polenta Fries good reheated?
Yes! Just make sure to crisp them up in the oven and not the microwave.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Feel free to swap out the chickpea flour for all-purpose flour
- We love this with a spicy tomato sauce, but they would be awesome with a roasted garlic aioli or even a homemade ranch. Also, there is no shame in buying jarred marinara.
- If you want to fry them, go for it. Heat a non-stick pan to a medium-high heat and coat the bottom with olive oil. Pan-fry the fries on all sides until crispy and golden brown.
- Polenta fries are best served hot out of the oven, but they’re also good at room temperature.
For more healthy, dinner-party worthy bites, check out these favorites.
- This Easy Garlic Shrimp is always a hit at every party and is so darn classy. Minimal ingredients make this a cinch to throw together.
- This Shishito Pepper and Burrata Crostini is HEAVENLY and again, so easy to throw together!
- 5-Ingredient Mussels are a party pleaser every time. Throw everything in, cook them up and then serve them right out of the pot.
- 4 cups water
- 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan
- 1/2 cup chickpea or all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 14 oz canned crushed tomatoes
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- baking sheet
- Baking dish
- Preheat oven 450 degrees. Grease a small 9x12 baking sheet or pan.
- In a medium saucepan, bring water and 3/4 tsp salt to a rolling boil. Turn heat down to medium. Whisk in cornmeal or polenta VERY slowly. Reduce heat to medium-low or low and whisk almost constantly for 20 minutes until thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Remove from heat and add in parmesan and crushed rosemary.
- Working quickly pour creamy polenta into the prepared pan. Spread evenly. You want it to be about 1/4 to 1/2-inches thick. Cool completely at room temperature or in the fridge. (CAN BE MADE UP TO TWO DAYS IN ADVANCE UP UNTIL THIS POINT.)
- When you're ready to bake, invert on to a cutting board. Cut into fry shapes and dredge in chickpea or all-purpose flour, removing excess when done.
- Place a cooling rack on a cookie sheet and spray with olive oil spray. Place fries on the cooling rack and spray the fries. Bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp and brown.
- While the fries bake, make the sauce, Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a small skillet or saucepan. Add the garlic. Cook for one minute. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, remaining salt and red pepper flakes. Simmer until fries are done cooking, about 10-15 minutes.
- When the fries are done, if desired, sprinkle with extra parmesan cheese. Serve with spicy tomato sauce.