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This comforting, creamy pumpkin polenta tastes like autumn has arrived. It's soft, velvety, and melded together with the flavors of savory goat cheese, crunchy spinach, earthy sage, warm pumpkin, and roasted butternut squash. It'll warm you to your core!
In polenta paradise? Add cauliflower polenta to your list.
What is it about polenta that is so comforting? Its rustic origins as a peasant dish in Northern Italy evoke a certain nostalgia. It's such a simple ingredient that takes on flavor beautifully, and its smooth texture makes it warm and filling. Add pumpkin to this, and you've got yourself one heck of a cozy fall dinner!
What is polenta?
Polenta, with its origins in Northern Italy, is made from coarsely ground yellow cornmeal. The dish is prepared by boiling the polenta until it becomes creamy in texture. It can be enjoyed soft, like in this recipe, or cooled then sliced, grilled, fried, or baked until it becomes firm. Polenta has a mildly sweet and earthy flavor, very subtly reminiscent of corn, but absorbs the flavor from other ingredients it is cooked with.
These ingredients fuse together to create a creamy pumpkin polenta:
- Butternut squash: Adds a sweet and nutty flavor. Reserve the seeds for roasting.
- Olive oil and butter: To sauté the onion and garlic.
- Yellow onion and garlic: Create an aromatic base to the dish.
- Polenta: This recipe calls for polenta rather than cornmeal. They are almost the same product however the consistency of the grain varies.
- Whole milk: To make it extra creamy, use whipping cream in place of some of the milk.
- Goat cheese: Makes the meal extra creamy while adding a delicious tang.
- Spinach: Offers a fresh, leafy green for contrast and added nutrition.
- Canned pureed pumpkin: Melds with the polenta as the warm base to this dish. (Be careful not to buy pumpkin pie mix, which has spices and sugar added).
- Dried sage: Imparts an earthy, herbaceous taste.
- Sea salt: To balance the flavors.
How to make pumpkin polenta
This pumpkin polenta recipe will give you a satisfying dinner in a few simple steps:
- Roast butternut squash: While the oven is heating up, toss cubed butternut squash with olive oil, place on a baking sheet, and bake until tender.
- Cook aromatics: Saute the onion in a skillet until brown and soft, then add the garlic for the final minute.
- Cook polenta: Next, add the polenta, milk, and sea salt to the onions and garlic. Bring to a boil before reducing to a gentle simmer. Stir it occasionally while it cooks, until it reaches the consistency of mashed potatoes.
- Add flavors and serve: Stir in the goat cheese, spinach, pumpkin, sage, and roasted squash. Season it with a touch more salt if needed, then dig in, and enjoy!
What's the secret to cooking perfect polenta?
- Flavor base – Cooking the onion in butter and oil creates a good base for our polenta, and don't forget to add the salt.
- Stir it up – Stirring your creamy polenta while it cooks with a wooden spoon ensures even cooking and helps avoid lumps.
- Low and slow – Once it reaches boiling point, lower the heat to a gentle simmer. The longer it cooks, the creamier it becomes, so go low and slow!
- Off the heat – Polenta continues to thicken after you remove it from the heat, as it cools. Cooking until it reaches a mashed potato consistency then taking off the heat works great. Enjoy it immediately!
Polenta is versatile, so you can throw in any additions you'd like. Some of our favorites include:
- Grated parmesan cheese.
- Freshly cracked black pepper.
- Crushed garlic cloves.
- Chili flakes.
- Toasted pine nuts or walnuts.
- A dollop of basil or sundried tomato pesto.
- Caramelized onions.
- Crispy pancetta or bacon bits.
- Herbs, such as fresh thyme.
What to serve with pumpkin polenta
Add some extra nutrition to the table with salads or vegetables. Try adding a side dish of sauteed green beans, roasted root vegetables, roasted broccoli and carrots, or grilled mushrooms to your table spread.
Is this gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegan?
Polenta is made from cornmeal, which is naturally gluten-free. As always, it's best to double-check the label for any additives that may contain gluten.
To make this recipe dairy-free or vegan, omit the butter and use a milk alternative or vegetable broth – you may wish to add a pinch of nutritional yeast to add a cheesy flavor, as you should also omit the goat cheese. You can also substitute it with your favorite vegan cheese.
Are polenta and grits the same thing?
No, not quite – they are both made from ground corn, but the similarities end there. Polenta is made from finely ground yellow corn, white grits are made from white corn (hominy) and ground with the germ intact, owning a more pronounced corn flavor.
How long do leftovers last?
Leftover pumpkin polenta can be stored in a sealed container in your fridge for up to 4 days. As it thickens considerably when it's cold, you'll want to add some liquid to it when you reheat it.
- 1 small butternut squash (cut into cubes – roast the seeds, if you'd like)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil (divided)
- 1 teaspoon butter
- ½ medium yellow onion (finely minced)
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 cup polenta
- 4 cups whole milk (see notes)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 tablespoons goat cheese
- 4 cups spinach
- 1 cup canned pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- Turn your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Put the butternut squash on the tray and toss it with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Put the pan into the oven (you don't need to wait for it to finish preheating) and roast the squash for 25-30 minutes, or until it is tender.1 small butternut squash
- Add the remaining teaspoon of oil and the butter to a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.1 teaspoon butter, ½ medium yellow onion, 1 clove garlic
- Add the polenta, milk, and sea salt to the pot with the onions. Bring it to a boil then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook the polenta, stirring occasionally, until it resembles mashed potatoes, about 12-15 minutes.1 cup polenta, 4 cups whole milk
- Stir in the goat cheese, spinach, pumpkin, sage, and roasted butternut squash. Season to taste with sea salt.1 teaspoon sea salt, 4 tablespoons goat cheese, 4 cups spinach, 1 cup canned pureed pumpkin, 1 teaspoon dried sage
We have thoroughly tested this recipe for accuracy. However, individual results may vary. See our full recipe disclosure here.