These crispy pan-fried polenta cakes are topped with a simple mushroom ragu. Elegant, delicious and easy, they’re the perfect party appetizer.

Every year the same thing happens. My imagination conjures up some over the top, sequin studded, champagne sipping, New Year’s eve party. I fantasize about fancy passed hors d’oeuvres on silver platters and wearing heels in the kitchen.

Then reality strikes and I realize I’m not Carrie Bradshaw (although she would never be cooking on New Year’s eve), we live in the sticks and all of our friends have kids and/or newborns.

These crispy polenta cakes are topped with a simple mushroom ragu. Elegant, delicious and easy, they're the perfect party appetizer.
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Sigh.

I saw a polenta recipe on Bon Appetite and literally had to make it. If I was hosting that New Year’s, this would be one of those passed hors d’oeuvres.

Polenta screams classy just because it’s not really “American” (and classy is so far from true considering it’s cornmeal + liquid…but just go with it) and oyster mushrooms are one of those things that look all fancy but really aren’t.

So basically this whole recipe was one delicious tasting farce.

Looks complicated/fancy/elegant whatever, but so isn’t. My kinda thing.

Easy polenta cakes are made with cornmeal and topped with a simple mushroom ragu.

How Do You Make Polenta Cakes?

Polenta is one of the simplest things to make. You literally just whisk water/milk with cornmeal for a few minutes until it thickens into a beautifully hearty luscious almost porridge type consistency.

If you just wanted polenta, you’d stop there and use it as a base to any ragu or stew like this slow cooker balsamic pulled pork or lentil bolognese. You can even eat it for breakfast in these strawberry coconut polenta bowls!

If you’re making these polenta cakes though, you’re going to spread it out into a baking dish and chill it.

Once chilled, the polenta gets cut into squares and then pan-fried in some butter and olive oil to get those crispy browned sides before topping with the mushroom ragu.

Cooked polenta is spread into a baking dish to make simple polenta squares.

The combination of the savory pan fried polenta squares with the slightly creamy mushrooms is out of this world delicious.

It’s one of those bites where your mouth just does a happy dance and says “why do you not feed me like this all the time?”

Pan fried polenta cakes are crispy and delicious topped with a simple mushroom ragu.

It also transported me back to visiting my family in Italy when I was studying abroad in Spain in college (eating the best gazpacho).

My second cousin made us polenta with a cinghiale (wild boar) ragu that her husband had caught.

It was such an unbelievably comforting dish. When I think of that trip, that’s my first memory.

This cute little squared bite reminded me of that in a slightly less hearty way.

Polenta Squares topped with sauteed mushrooms make a deliciously crispy appetizer.

Other Ways To Make Polenta Cakes

You can also make polenta cakes by baking or grilling the squares. I personally find pan-frying to be the quickest and easiest method.

If you wanted to bake these, I would grease an aluminum foil lined baking sheet with baking spray, line the squares up on the sheet, spray the tops with the baking spray and bake at 400-425°F for about 10 minutes per side. Spray the other side when you flip them over.

Grilling is similar in that I would grease the grates with oil really well first otherwise the polenta will stick to the grill. If you have a grilling mat, I would definitely grill them on that instead of directly on the grates!

Crispy pan-fried cornmeal cakes topped with mushroom ragu and gruyere are a delicious bite for a party appetizer.

So, regardless of what you’re doing on New Year’s: fancy party or sitting on your couch, passed hors d’oeuvres or a microwave meal, heels or slippers – you should make room for some crispy polenta in your plans.

And if you are having that fancy party, hook a girl up with an invite next year!

Love these polenta cakes?

Try these other appetizer bites worthy of a spot at your next party! Spicy Hummus Stuffed Roasted Potato CupsRoasted Grape and Jalapeno Sweet Potato Crostini or, Cranberry Cheddar Sausage Bites.

This cheddar polenta with sausage skillet is another delicious way to add polenta into your dinner plans.

4.36 from 14 votes

Polenta Cakes with Mushroom Ragu

Servings: 8 servings
Prep: 1 hour 15 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 1 hour 30 minutes
These crispy pan-fried polenta cakes are topped with a simple mushroom ragu. Elegant, delicious and easy, they’re the perfect party appetizer.

Ingredients 

For the Polenta

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

For the Mushroom Ragu

  • 8 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 ounces baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 5 ounces oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions 

For the Polenta

  • Bring chicken broth, milk and bay leaf to a simmer in a medium sauce pan, turn off heat and cover for 15-20 minutes.
  • Once cooled, remove bay leaf.
  • Bring mixture to a boil and slowly whisk in cornmeal, until thick and smooth (about 1-2 minutes)
  • Add in one tablespoon of the butter and all of the cheese off the heat. Whisk until combined and melted.
  • Pour polenta into an 8×8 baking dish lined with parchment paper and smooth out evenly. Refrigerate for at least an hour, until firm.

For the Mushroom Ragu

  • Melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
  • Add mushrooms and let cook for 10-12 minutes, until soft and the water they've given off has mostly evaporated.
  • Add shallots, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and saute for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add chicken broth and saute for 1-2 minutes.
  • Finish with minced rosemary and season again with salt and pepper to taste.

To Make the Polenta Cakes

  • Remove the polenta from the baking dish using the parchment paper and transfer to a cutting board.
  • Cut the chilled polenta into circles using a biscuit cutter or triangles using a sharp knife.
  • In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt remaining tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  • Pan fry the polenta cakes for about 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown. Use more butter and oil as needed to pan-fry all the polenta cakes.
  • Drain on a paper towel.
  • Spoon mushroom mixture over the cakes and top with extra grated parmesan and minced rosemary. Serve warm.

Notes

Polenta can be made and chilled ahead of time and sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Nutrition

Serving: 1SERVINGCalories: 258kcalCarbohydrates: 21gProtein: 7gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 25mgSodium: 352mgPotassium: 415mgFiber: 3gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 303IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 103mgIron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Appetizers
Cuisine: Italian
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Founder and Writer at Running to the Kitchen | About

Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.

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24 Comments

  1. Your polenta looks fantastic. I have made it twice and both times it was a big FAIL. We always get take out for New Year’s and are in bed by 10pm.

  2. I love mushrooms and polenta together. We used to do it all the time when I worked in catering and I always ended up eating 1/2 of them as “quality control”. I haven’t made it in years though so I’m excited to try this.

  3. Ya know, mushrooms are something I love so much and just NEVER remember to buy to cook with. I need to change that immediately – you’ve inspired me :)

  4. This looks amazing, girl!!! WOOOOW!!! I’ve never had polenta, I actually don’t really know what it is, but I’ll google to find out ;) I assume the corn meal? LOL!

    I do love me some serious mushrooms!! YUM!

    xxoo

  5. I’ve never had polenta in my life but is sounds amazing and it looks so crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside your recipe sounds great and I love the light on your photos, new follower :)

  6. LOVE polenta. Recently I have been making it, but I’ve never tried baking it in a loaf or pan frying it, gotta give this a try. Just did a little happy dance when I realized I have almost all of these ingredients on hand!

  7. looks delicious! you can drive down to DC and party with me :) happy new year, gina! i hope next year is the year we get to meet up!!

  8. Yum, that looks good! I’ve only cooked polenta once or twice, but it’s one of those things I’d rather have at home than at a restaurant.

  9. Haha thats exactly what happens to me!! Although rather than it being because of kids it’s because we all live in different countries. I am sure Luke and I will go out and there will be sequins a plenty however I would much prefer to be bringing in the new year in with my nearest (mentally not physically) and dearests! Maybe next year!! :) Hope you have a lovely NYE whatever you end up doing!!