Polenta is warm, comforting, and seriously simple to make, especially if you pop it into the oven instead of stirring over a hot stove. Mushrooms and fresh herbs make a tasty topping, but you feel free to vary the veggies in the ragù. Experiment with zucchini, eggplant, and peppers, for instance. Transform leftovers into a savory breakfast simply by sliding a fried egg on top.
1 cup (7 oz/220 g) polenta
3¼ cups (26 fl oz/810 ml) warm water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons (1 oz/30 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons (3 fl oz/80 ml) olive oil
½ yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can (28 oz/875 g) diced tomatoes, with juice
1¼ lb (625 g) brown or white mushrooms, brushed clean and sliced
½ cup (½ oz/15 g) loosely packed basil leaves, chopped
15 oz (470 g) whole-milk ricotta
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease an 8-inch (20-cm) square baking dish with butter and add the polenta, warm water, melted butter, and 1 teaspoon salt. Using a fork, stir to combine well. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan, and continue to bake until set, about 10 minutes longer.
In a large nonreactive saucepan, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, season well with salt and pepper, and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their juices and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a nonstick frying pan, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are deep brown but still holding their shape, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon (to leave behind all the water from the mushrooms), transfer the mushrooms to the tomato sauce, along with 2 tablespoons of the chopped basil. Stir to combine and cook for another 5 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and keep warm over low heat.
In a bowl, stir together the ricotta and the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and the remaining basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To finish, top the polenta with the mushroom ragù and dollop the top with heaping mounds of the ricotta mixture.
To pack: Pack the ricotta mixture separately in a small airtight container. Top the polenta with the ragù, let cool slightly, then tightly cover the baking dish. The polenta and the ricotta mixture will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer.
To reheat: Bake the polenta in a 350°F (180°C) oven until heated through, 15 minutes for refrigerated polenta, or up to an hour for frozen. Thaw (if frozen) and dollop on the ricotta mixture just before serving.
Makes 6 servings