There are two types of comfort food in the world: The crazy and the thoughtful. I’ve been known to make both. These Creamy Polenta Bowls fall into the thoughtful category of comfort food.
In the crazy category are those recipes for macaroni and cheese that have pounds of cheese and butter. Some might say this pumpkin mac and cheese is a good example of borderline crazy comfort food. A little wild, but everybody loves it.
Sometimes the second category, the thoughtful, is more interesting though. Thoughtful comfort food has layers, different textures, and richness. It leaves you feeling full, but not out of commission. And you always want more.
These polenta bowls with chard and bacon are an example of thoughtful comfort food. These will keep you warm on these very chilly February nights, but they will also just make ya smile.
What is Polenta?
Polenta is essentially ground corn, but it can come in a variety of shapes and sizes and you can use many techniques to cook it depending on what you are looking for.
The basics of it are the same though. It’s ground corn.
Polenta is the Italian take on the ground corn which they either make very creamy by slowly simmering in liquid or they let the polenta firm up into a brick, slice it, and crisp it up in a skillet or in the oven like I did for these Polenta Fries or you can even fry polenta to get it super crispy.
How to make creamy polenta for these bowls
The base of these bowls is a creamy polenta that simmers until it’s thick and rich. Once you get it down, you’ll find all kinds of uses for creamy polenta.
The biggest trick to making good polenta is to bring the water to a simmer in a saucepan before you stir in the polenta. As you pour in the ground corn, whisk the polenta so it doesn’t stick together and clump up.
Note: For a flavor boost, you could use chicken broth or vegetable broth in place of water for the base liquid.
If you do that, then you are in good shape. Let the polenta simmer for a few minutes until it starts to thicken, turn your heat down to low, and then you can add your cream to the pot. Season the polenta with salt and pepper and taste it to make sure it’s tender. It might need to cook longer and you might need to add some water to it if it seems too thick.
A good consistency for the polenta is like a very thick pancake batter. It should be barely pourable, but easily spreadable with a spoon.
Can polenta be made ahead?
You can absolutely make polenta in advance, but just remember that it will solidify in the fridge. Just don’t freak out if you take your polenta out and it’s a brick of food.
You can bring it back to life by breaking it apart into a pot with some water in it and stirring it until it comes back to life into a creamy polenta.
Polenta Bowl ingredients
I sort of contradicted myself for these bowls. Usually I call ground corn grits if it is edible via spoon and polenta if it’s hard and fried. But for some reason these are called polenta bowls. I don’t need to be consistent so just give me this!
You can call them grits bowls if you want. It’s literally the same thing!
To finish the polenta for these bowls, add in some cheddar cheese. Don’t overdo it with the cheese. It adds some nice sharpness but we aren’t in the crazy category so keep it under control!
You can keep the polenta warm while you make the bowls or do them at the same time obviously!
The toppings for the bowl start with bacon. A good amount, but not a crazy amount! Chop it up and crisp it up over low heat in a sturdy skillet, like a cast iron skillet.
Once the bacon is crispy, remove it and drain off all the fat except for about 2-3 tablespoons of bacon grease in the skillet. Then add in the chopped chard and red chilis. I like to use red Fresno chilis which have a little heat, but aren’t overpowering.
For the chard, you can chop it up roughly, but cut out any of the very thick stems. Then add everything in the pan!
Season the mixture with salt and pepper and it’s time to eat! The chard will cook really quickly.
To finish the polenta bowls, divide the cheesy polenta (or grits) and then top with the chard mixture. Sprinkle on some crispy bacon and fresh green onions and you are in business.
This is a rich dish, but also feels somehow light. It’s perfect for a chilly winter day and is great for ski day meals.
Substitution Ideas for these polenta bowls
As you might imagine, once you get the basics down for these polenta bowls, they are pretty flexible. Here are some substitution ideas.
- Make the bowls vegetarian by adding mushrooms instead of bacon.
- Add some crushed garlic to the chard as it is cooking.
- Top the bowls with some fried eggs for a classic put-an-egg-on-it meal.
- You could make these Tex-Mex with some jalapeno, avocado, and cilantro.
Polenta Bowls with Chard and Bacon
- 1 cup coarse polenta corn grits
- 3-4 cups water
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 6 strips bacon, chopped
- 2 red fresno chilis
- 1 large bunch chard
- Fresh scallions
- For polenta, bring 3 cups of water to a low simmer in a medium pot. Slowly pour in ground corn and whisk constantly. Turn heat down to low and simmer until corn starts to thicken, 3-4 minutes. Then add cream, salt, and pepper and continue to cook on low until polenta is soft. If it seems dry and is sticking or cracking, add more water in ½ cup increments. Keep polenta warm over very low heat.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet add chopped bacon over low heat and cook until bacon is crispy, maybe 10 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and let drain on a paper towel. Drain off all but 2-3 tablespoons of bacon grease.
- Add sliced chili pepper and chopped chard (cut off any very thick stems) to the skillet and toss to combine. Cook for a few minutes until chard cooks down an bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Right before serving, stir cheddar cheese into polenta and divide between bowls. Top with chard mixture and reserved crispy bacon. Garnish with scallions also.