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Home » Appetizers » Polenta Bites with Tomato Pesto

Polenta Bites with Tomato Pesto

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Polenta bites are savory and chewy and topped with creamy goat cheese and tangy sun-dried tomato pesto. The combination of flavors creates an elevated and delicious appetizer that fits any special occasion.

These little polenta bites are glorified “cornmeal mush” with flavorful additions like garlic, Gruyere cheese, butter and fresh herbs. They are the perfect, versatile base for any topping of choice, and the options are truly endless!

Several polenta appetizer bites on a serving platter.

With its mildly sweet yet neutral flavor and impressive versatility, polenta is the can-be-anything food item that often gets overlooked.

It’s delicious as a creamy, cheesy base for comfort food dishes like beef stew or braised Greek lamb shanks. And you might be surprised to discover that with little effort, tubed polenta from the grocery store shelf can easily transform into a delicious, gluten-free polenta pizza crust!

This fun and easy polenta appetizer is the perfect starter to any of your favorite main courses.

We topped it with a creamy goat cheese mixture and our sun-dried tomato pesto, but truly anything goes with these tasty little polenta points!

Top them with your spread of choice or go with a soft cheese and flavorful toppings like roasted red pepper, a little bit of roasted garlic or a traditiona basil pesto

A small plate filled with polenta appetizer bites.

Why This Polenta Bites Recipe Works

These polenta bites make a tasty summer appetizer but are just as fitting as an elevated starter for the holiday season. They’re also a great way to make use of polenta and cater to any gluten-free eaters while you’re at it! 

  • Easy to adapt. While we love the tart and mildly sweet flavor of sun-dried tomatoes paired with rich goat cheese, you can easily change up the toppings and make this recipe your own. 
  • Simple to prepare. Polenta bites only require a few simple ingredients and the process is probably easier than you might think!
  • An appetizer for everyone. Since polenta is naturally gluten free and the toppings are too, this is a recipe that gluten-free eaters can enjoy too.

Ingredients for this Appetizer

Here’s a look at what you will need to make these delicious polenta bites. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to view the printable recipe card for all of the ingredient amounts. 

  • Pantry items: Water or chicken broth, salt, and quick-cooking polenta, which you can typically find at most grocery stores.
  • Dairy: Milk, Gruyere cheese, butter, goat cheese and heavy cream (for the topping). 
  • Produce: You’ll need freshly-minced garlic, chopped fresh basil, chopped chives, fresh parsley and prepared sun-dried tomato pesto

How to Make these Rustic Tomato and Cheese Cornmeal Cubes

Here’s a look at the steps required but be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to view the printable recipe card. 

Before you begin: Line a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang at each end. Oil it generously with olive oil or spray it with a non-stick oil spray. 

  1. Add the water, milk, salt and garlic in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then turn it down to a simmer. While whisking, slowly pour in the polenta. Reduce the heat to medium low. Continue stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon for 5-8 minutes. 
  2. Remove the cooked polenta from the heat and stir in the cheese, butter and chopped basil. 
  3. Pour it into the prepared pan and spread it into the corners. Broil the top for 1-3 minutes and transfer to the fridge.
  4. Make the topping: Add the goat cheese, cream, garlic and salt to a small mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Stir in the chives. 
  5. Lift the slab of polenta out of the pan and cut it into 32 squares. Slice each square into two triangles. 
  6. Spread some cheese mixture on each polenta point, add a dab of pesto and sprinkle some chopped parsley on top. 
Several polenta canapes on a plate.

Recipe Tips for Success

  • If you pour the polenta into the water too fast, it will get lump. Make sure to whisk continuously as you pour the polenta in a slow steady stream. 
  • If you cannot find polenta, you can make this polenta bites recipe with courser ground corn meal. Polenta is made from a specific variety of corn that tends to hold its shape better than regular cornmeal. 
  • You can substitute goat cheese for cream cheese, Boursin cheese spread, ricotta cheese or a combination of these. 
  • The extra foil at the ends makes it easy to gently lift the polenta slab from the pan and transfer it to a cutting board. If you don’t have foil, you can also use parchment paper. 
  • Toss in some grated Parmesan into the corn mixture and top the bites with roasted mushrooms for extra umami flavor. 

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A plate of polenta bites topped with goat cheese and tomato pesto.

Polenta Bites with Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

Yield: servings 64
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Polenta with garlic, basil and lemon, toasted under the broiler and cut into triangles, then topped with a smooth tangy mix of goat cheese and ricotta, then topped with sun dried tomato pesto.

Ingredients

For the polenta points:

  • 2 cups water or chicken broth
  • 1-½ cups milk
  • 1-½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-¼ cups quick cooking polenta
  • ¼ cup shredded gruyere cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil

For the topping:

  • 1-8 ounce log of goat cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1-6 ounce jar of prepared sun dried pesto
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Line a jelly roll pan (10 x 15 x ½) with aluminum foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang at each end, oil generously with olive oil or spray with non-stick.
  2. Combine the water, milk, salt and the garlic in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat then turn down to a gentle simmer.
  3. Slowly pour in the polenta while constantly whisking. Reduce the heat to medium low. Use a spatula or wooden spoon and continue stirring constantly for 5 to 8 minutes.
  4. Taste the polenta at this point to see if it is done. If it is gritty and hard, add a spash of water and continue cooking for a couple more minutes. The cook time will vary depending on the brand of polenta or cornmeal that you use. At this stage, you have to trust your instincts and adjust accordingly. The goal is for the polenta to be thick and smooth, without any raw graininess.
  5. Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the cheese and butter until melted. Stir in the chopped basil
  6. Pour the polenta into the prepared pan, pushing it into the corners and smoothing the top. Do this while it is still hot so it spreads easily.
  7. Move the oven rack to the highest position and turn the broiler to high. Broil for 1 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. You may need to rotate the pan if you notice it browning unevenly.
  8. Transfer the polenta to the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour (or overnight if you are making this in advance).

For the topping:

  1. Add the goat cheese, cream, garlic, and salt to a small mixing bowl and with a hand electric mixer blend to a creamy, spreadable consistency. Stir in the chives.
  2. When the polenta is completely cold, lift the slab of polenta out of the pan. With a sharp knife, cut the polenta into 32 squares, then cut each square into 2 triangles.
  3. Spread a scant ½ teaspoon of the cheese mixture on each polenta point, add a dab of the pesto and sprinkle some chopped parsley on top.

Notes

  • If you pour the polenta into the water too quickly, it will get lumpy. You also need to whisk continuously.
  • You can make the polenta with a courser ground corn meal if you can't find polenta. Polenta is made from a specific variety of corn that tends to hold it's shape better than regular cornmeal.
  • If you do not have a taste for goat cheese it is easily adaptable by substituting cream cheese, Bousin spread, or ricotta cheese or a combination of these.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 64 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 34Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 6mgSodium: 76mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 1g

Nutrition information is a guideline only, is calculated automatically by third party software, and absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.

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Pat Nyswonger

Pat is a wife, mom of four adult children, and grandmother to seventeen beautiful children. She is a self-taught home cook and loves creating delicious meals for her family and friends. Her kitchen is the hub of activity in her home, and she loves to entertain.

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John@Kitchen Riffs

Wednesday 28th of January 2015

What a terrific dish! Lovely way to use polenta. Heck, I'd make a whole meal out of these! Good stuff -- thanks.

Pat

Wednesday 28th of January 2015

Ha, Ha, thanks, John....It would be so easy to make a meal of these, they are addictive little bites. :)

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