Polenta Chili Pie

Would you like some deep dish Chicago style pizza? Yeah, me too, (though the gluten would kill me)…so while the above photo may look like a deep dish pizza, this is a whole other animal that I’m calling Polenta Chili Pie.

If you liked those polenta wedges two weeks ago, then this is the next step in your polenta experience. I won’t kid you – this is one of those multi-step recipes that takes a fair amount of time, but give it a chance. None of the steps are difficult and you can make it in stages as I did. Make the crust and chili one day, bake it the next. The pie makes a TON, so either invite some friends over for dinner or plan on enjoying this for leftovers for a few days. You’ll also have some leftover chili beyond what you use to fill the pie, so it’s like double-bonus leftovers!

If you’re a meat-free kind of person, just leave the ground beef out – you’ll hardly notice the difference – the chili is fantastic sans cow. I used two cheeses in the recipe and those can also be left out if you need to keep it dairy-free.

You might not be familiar with cotija or chihuahua cheeses – both are Mexican style cheeses. I used the hard, dry cotija cheese in the polenta crust for it’s intense, slightly funky flavor to give the polenta a little punch. If you can’t find cotija, I think an aged gouda would be good. Chihuahua is a soft grating cheese used in quesadillas and enchiladas for it’s mellow flavor and meltability – you could use jack cheese in its place.

The finished pie is spicy, hearty and perfect comfort food. Because it’s such a heavy dish, pair it up with a light green salad to balance the meal. One word of caution – removing the pie from the pan is a bit of a messy ordeal – the slices of pie weren’t the prettiest, and I used two spatulas at once to get them onto plates in one piece, but a little ugly pie doesn’t bother me a bit.

Polenta Chili Pie
Serves 6
3/4 cup of polenta (coarse cornmeal/grits)
2 1/4 cups water
1 oz cotija cheese, grated with microplane (optional)
1 lb lean ground beef
3 cups cooked black beans (or two 14oz cans, drained and rinsed)
1 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 can fire roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen brand)
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 T chile con carne seasoning (or chile powder), divided
1 tsp dried oregano
1 T chipotle puree (or your favorite hot sauce)
3oz grated jalepeno chihuahua cheese (or monterey jack)
1 tsp salt, divided
cilantro for garnish
  1. Brown the beef: Heat a large non-stick pot over medium heat. Crumble the beef into the pot and brown until cooked through. Pour the beef into a strainer over the sink to drain off any liquid and fat, then set the beef aside. Wipe out the pot and return to medium heat.
  2. Cooking the polenta: Pour the water and 1/2 tsp salt into the pot and cover. Bring the water to a boil. When the water is boiling, pour the polenta into the water and stir. Add 1 T of the chile powder. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring every minute or so, until the polenta is done, and beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan. When the polenta is done, stir in the cotija cheese (if using).
  3. Next, spray a baking pan, springform pan or large pie plate with oil. Pour the polenta into the pan and smooth it into a crust-like form. If the polenta won’t stay up on sides of the pan, do the best you can, then chill the crust for 15 minutes to let it set up a bit, and then you can work the crust into all the corners and smooth it out. I used a small glass to form the edges. At this point you can chill the crust for a day or two if you’re planning ahead.
  4. Making the chili: Reheat the pot over medium heat. Add 1 T oil, onion and bell peppers. Saute for 5-8 minutes, until the onions are translucent and beginning to soften. Add the garlic, 3 T chile con carne and oregano and stir until fragrant – about a minute. Add the beans and can of fire roasted tomatoes, chipotle puree and 1/2 cup water – stir, cover and bring to a simmer. When the chili is bubbling, add the cooked ground beef and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt or more chipotle puree as needed. You want the finished chili to be moist, but not juicy so that the pie won’t be too oozy when baked. The chili will make far more than you need for the pie, so you will likely have 3 servings of chili leftover to eat on its own – lucky you!
  5. Baking the pie: Bring the crust to room temperature before baking. Prehead the oven to 375 degrees. Spoon enough chili into the crust to fill the crust to the top, without overflowing. Bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check to make sure the pie is hot all the way through, then top with the grated chihuahua cheese and bake for 7 more minutes until the cheese is melted. Remove the pie from the oven and let it rest for 3 minutes before serving. It’s a little tricky to remove from the pan, and may not hold together in pretty slices, but the awesomeness of the pie will help you forget any sloppiness in the serving.
379 cal/serving, 110 cal from fat, 11.9g fat, 60mg cholesterol, 590mg sodium, 290mg potassium, 40g carbs, 8g fiber, 6g sugars, 26.2g protein

Roasted Polenta Wedges

Polenta is one of those comfort foods that I adore, yet I seem to forget about it most of the time. It’s humble food – there’s nothing really flashy about this thick corn porridge, yet it can be dressed up into something marvelous with very few ingredients.

In November, I was reminded about how much I love polenta at the Safe & Sound Allergy-Free Dinner at Chicago’s BOKA restaurant. One of the courses in the awesome meal included a few cubes of the creamiest polenta I’ve ever had. They were crisp on the outside, but soft and creamy inside. I could have eaten a whole bowl of those little cubes. I’ve been pondering how Chef Tentori achieved this culinary marvel (without any dairy at all) and I’m guessing he was using a much more finely ground polenta than what I had in the pantry for this recipe.

I’m no Chef Tentori, but my polenta┬áis quite tasty and fills the bill when the craving for comfort food hits. After you roast the polenta, it’s lovely and crisp on the outside and still soft inside. YUM. One batch of polenta makes a lot, so you can make these lovely polenta wedges and dip in that fabulous tomato butter sauce, while having plenty of leftovers to say – spread some olive tapenade on, or make openface polenta pizzas. The possibilities are wide open with polenta as your culinary blank slate.

Roasted Polenta
Serves 5

1 1/2 cups corn polenta
4 cups water
1 T butter
2 T olive oil (I used the garlic oil from my mojo de ajo)
3 T half & half
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp kosher salt

  1. Heat a large non-stick skillet (that has a lid) over high heat. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and slowly pour in the polenta, stirring constantly. Add the butter, thyme and rosemary. Cook for about 10 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the polenta begins to pull away from the edges of the pan.
  2. Add the half & half, pepper 1 tsp salt, cayenne and most of the grated parmesan (leave a little bit for garnishing later) – stir to incorporate.
  3. Spray a half sheet pan (or 9×13 baking pan) with olive oil. Turn the cooked polenta out into the sheet pan, and gently smooth the polenta into one layer using a spatula. Sprinkle on the reserved parmesan cheese and then chill the polenta until you’re ready to prepare dinner – at least 3 hours, so the polenta has time to firm up.
  4. Roasting the polenta: Preheat the broiler. Remove the polenta from the fridge, and turn the polenta out onto a large cutting board. Cut into desired shapes – slender fingers or large triangles for a main course. Lightly spray the sliced polenta with olive oil. Place the polenta on a sheet pan, and broil for 15 minutes, turning the pieces over halfway through. Serve piping hot.

268 cal/serving, 100 cal from fat, 11.3g fat, 15mg cholesterol, 25mg potassium, 33g carbs, 3g fiber, 6.7g protein