Creamy Cheddar Polenta with Pesto and Oven-Roasted Tomatoes – The Simple Life

Creamy Cheddar Polenta with Pesto and Oven-Roasted Tomatoes - The Simple Life | WillCookForFriends

Life is complicated. It is hectic, and messy, and intricate, and beautiful, and no matter how hard I may try to grasp it I will never be able to fully appreciate just how vast it is.

There are parts of this world I will never know. I will never know what it is like to be a general on the front lines of a battlefield, or a child starving in a third world country. I will never be a firefighter who saves a life (or doesn’t), or a parent who loses their child (I hope)… I will only ever know what it is like to be me.

And I may never comprehend what it takes to make space travel possible, or how the world is made up of tiny strings, or how everything in nature is tied to a mathematical pattern that is always consistent and predictable. Those are not my areas of expertise.

There are so many little pieces that make up this world, all fitting together to create the “big picture”. When Shakespear said, “the world’s a stage…”, I think it was a gross understatement. It’s more like the world is a giant television screen, and each of us are merely pixels. We’re talking way bigger than 1080dpi, here. If you stand too close, you can only see so many dots, and they fill your entire vision, but no matter how far you lean back or how hard you crane your neck, you still can’t see the edges of the screen. It’s just too large.

In some ways, I think trying to see the big picture is what makes us humans so special. That we can look beyond ourselves, beyond what we know, and reach for something we can’t even imagine. Sometimes, though, striving to see the edges of our world will only get us so far before we stop being able to see what’s right in front of us.

Life is complex, but it can be very simple, too. I think that within the bigger picture, there are many smaller images. The picture within the big picture. The whole within the parts that make up the whole. I may never be able to know or appreciate what it is like to live in another era, or be another person, but I do have the opportunity to live in the now, and feel what it is like to be me. To experience the things that make up my tiny little piece of the world.

Sometimes I stretch myself too far, or spread myself too thin, searching for the edges to make my life more complete… but maybe I don’t need to look so far after all.

I guess all this rambling is just to say, sometimes life is about the little things. The simple pleasures.

Stop to smell the roses, and all that.

Creamy Cheddar Polenta with Pesto and Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes - The Simple Life | WillCookForFriends

That’s exactly what this polenta is. Simple. There are few things more comforting than a bowl of creamy, cheesy grits, and topped with fresh summer basil and oven-roasted cherry tomatoes… let’s just say, this is exactly what I needed.

I used my Basil and Sunflower Seed Pesto for this dish (you can find that recipe here), but you can use whatever pesto you like. The cheeses, too, can be swapped for whatever varieties your taste-buds desire. Oven-roasted cherry tomatoes are a favorite of mine, but if you want something a little more bright and fresh, a homemade salsa would be the perfect substitute.

This recipe has no rules. So long as it is composed of things you like, and enjoyed with people you love.

Creamy Cheesy Polenta with Basil Pesto and Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
Makes 4-5 servings – gluten-free

2-3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
olive oil, for drizzling
2 TBSP butter, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
5 cups water
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups dry polenta (course cornmeal)
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated (or other good melting cheese)
1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pesto, for serving (you can find my Basil and Sunflower Seed Pesto here)

For the oven-roasted tomatoes:
1.    Preheat oven to 375f.
2.    Halve the tomatoes, and place cut-side up on a baking sheet. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, and sprinkle evenly with salt. Feel free to add other seasonings, or fresh herbs like rosemary, if you like.
3.    Bake on the center rack for 30-40 minutes, or until the tomatoes have begun to shrivel up at the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside.
For the polenta:
1.    Place a pot of medium heat and melt 1 TBSP butter. Add the garlic and stir for one minute, or until fragrant.
2.    Add the water, cover, and increase heat to high to bring to a boil. Once boiling, stream in the polenta and stir well. Add the milk, and reduce the heat to low.
3.    Cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the polenta is thickened, and tender when chewed. Turn off the heat, dump in both of the cheeses, and add the second TBSP of butter. Stir until melted and combined.
4.    Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with pesto and oven-roasted tomatoes.
Leftovers can be warmed up and served as-is, OR:
1.    Lightly grease an 8×8 inch baking pan, and pour any extra polenta directly into it. This is best done when the polenta is still warm. Press the polenta into an even layer, let cool, and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
2.    Once chilled, the polenta will be firm enough to overturn onto a cutting board in one big slab. This can be sliced into squares or rectangles and baked or fried until golden and crispy. Delicious!


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25 Responses to Creamy Cheddar Polenta with Pesto and Oven-Roasted Tomatoes – The Simple Life

  1. Foodie Stuntman July 25, 2013 at 4:14 am #

    Your polenta looks absolutely beautiful!

  2. swest July 25, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    I adore polenta and this sounds like the yummiest way ever to eat it. And as newly gluten free it’s great to add a such fabulous recipe to my menu.
    Thanks and Hugs,

  3. thefreshfresher July 25, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    I have a huge sack of corn meal and never know how to cook with it – this is perfect for me!

  4. Grandbabycakes July 25, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    That polenta looks incredible! I could definitely use that for dinner some time soon!

  5. Anonymous July 26, 2013 at 5:03 am #

    So what is the difference between polenta and grits? Living in the South but not raised in the South.

    • Willow Arlen July 26, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

      As far as I understand it, grits and polenta are technically the same – they are both made from dried, ground-up corn kernels. The difference is that in Italy, one kind of corn is used, and in the south, another. There may also be variations on how course or fine the corn is ground. I’m no expert on either, but I’ve heard it said that southern grits can become mushy when cooked, whereas polenta tends to have a little more chew to it. I think when it comes to your average grocery store, though, you aren’t probably aren’t going to have a whole lot to choose from. Here’s an article with a little more about polenta vs. grits:
      Hope that helps!

  6. movita beaucoup July 26, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    I so needed this reminder today…


  7. shannon weber July 26, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    agree: i think sometimes we all get way too busy with the “we need to do’s” that we forget about all the stuff right in front of us that needs paying attention to. i’m perpetually guilty of this, for sure.
    i love you for this one, because we made a dish very similar to this towards the end of my vacation: all of us were sort of tired, just not wanting to make anything involved or complex, so i suggested polenta for dinner. we served it with a pesto i had made previously and some fresh tomatoes; it was lovely. just like this one (only i wish i had had the wherewithal to roast mine, but alas, no time). :)

  8. Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes August 9, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    I recently fell in love with Polenta after trying out the Polenta Fries recipe in VegNews- I had not a clue how incredible simple and amazing Polenta is- your version is quite beautiful!

  9. Christy, Peter, Jonas and Elliot August 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    I’ve already made these candy-like roasted tomatoes twice and we can’t seem to keep them around for more than a couple of minutes. Thanks for the great recipe!

  10. Ann M. October 29, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    To acknowledge my husband’s motto “Everything Tastes Better with Bacon,” I cooked about 3 oz of pancetta in the oven for the last 25 minutes the tomatoes were roasting and I was stirring the polenta. I drained and crumbled the pancetta to add to the tomatoes. I had the creamy polenta, while I chilled the rest before slicing and crisping in a frying pan.
    He asked for 2nd helpings! Thanks for the recipe!!!!!!!!!!!!! I will definitely be making it again & again.

  11. Kathleen September 29, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    I have no idea why I didn’t write a review immediately after feasting on this several months ago, but I must tell you that it was absolutely fabulous. One of those dishes I crave when I’m really hungry and in the throes of food fantasizing! It was very easy to make too, which I appreciate, and I also loved all the brownie points I earned from my family the night we had this for dinner!

    • Willow Arlen September 30, 2014 at 10:44 am #

      Thank you so much, Kathleen! Your comment seriously made my day, so I’m glad you took the time to come back and tell me even if it is a little after the fact. Also, you’ve just reminded me how good this dish is… I might just have to make it again this week! :)

  12. Ann October 9, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

    I love what you wrote, I love the photography and the recipe is making my mouth water. Think I will make this tomorrow for my friends who are coming for dinner and enjoy the simple things…friendship, food and probably a few bottles of wine!

    • Willow Arlen October 10, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

      Thanks, Ann! I’m really glad you’re going to make this… let me know what you think!

  13. Malou August 11, 2015 at 6:10 am #

    Looks amazing and I want to try it tonight. Can I change the cowmilk for almond or rice milk?

    • Willow Arlen August 11, 2015 at 12:07 pm #

      Hi Malou, that’s a great question! I’ve never tried it with a dairy-free milk. I imagine the polenta would cook up okay, but it might taste quite different… I’m really not sure. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

  14. Turtle66 October 22, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

    Your Polenta concoction looks and sounds Awesome! This is making me hungry. :)

  15. Santini February 17, 2019 at 7:14 pm #

    The pic looks so amazing and elegant! I’m pretty sure this tastes so delicious! Can’t wait to try this out! Thanks for sharing!

  16. Yang February 25, 2019 at 8:48 pm #

    I would really love a creamy cheddar polenta! This looks really really good! I will try this tonight for dinner after I clock out for work. It looks amazing! Thank you for sharing this recipe!


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