Dinner for One with Bittman’s ‘Polenta without Fear’ + A Huge Thank You

polenta, chard and fried egg

I never thought the day would come when I would consider sautéed greens over polenta topped with a fried egg as the idea of the most delicious dinner. Well, the day is here (has been for a little while now), and I am so glad it is, because nothing could be simpler to prepare.

Before I write another word, however, I just want to extend a huge thank you to the reader who submitted my blog in the comments section of this Bitten post. I am so touched that you thought of me and am so shocked to have been selected. Thank you, too, to the Bitten bloggers for considering alexandra’s kitchen as a worthy under-the-radar blog.

I could think of no better way to commemorate this moment than by making one of my favorite Bittman recipes: Polenta without Fear, which recently appeared in the featured recipe section of Bitten. I first made this dish shortly after returning from a dinner party where, upon arrival, I had been charged with polenta-making duties. I went to work, but what I had hoped to produce to complement the host’s delectable braised short ribs left me embarrassed. (I must note that it didn’t help that the host didn’t own a whisk, but I can’t turn all the blame elsewhere.) My polenta was lumpy, dry and unflavorful. Why?!

Of course my mother had the answer. Or at least a solution. Have you made Bittman’s polenta recipe, she asked? No, I hadn’t. But I would soon, and I did. And it’s delicious. The recipe uses a ratio of 1 cup stone ground cornmeal to 3 cups of liquid (1 cup whole milk + 2 cups water) with the addition of 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano and 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter at the end. Minimal stirring is required and the addition of a little water towards the end of the cooking process is all the doctoring necessary to produce “creamy, soft, mouth-filling polenta,” as described on Bitten.

So, as the title suggests, this polenta, topped with some sautéed greens — chard, kale, spinach — and a fried egg makes a great dinner-for-one. Would I love some braised short ribs on my polenta? Of course, but there are better opportunities for that. Need another dinner-for-one idea? Try these Zuni Cafe Eggs Fried in Bread Crumbs … so yummy!

The ingredients:
mise en place for dinner for one

Sautéed onions and Swiss chard from my Morning Song Farm CSA:
Swiss chard and onions over polenta

polenta, chard and fried egg

Polenta without Fear

Source: Bitten
Serves: 4

1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
1 cup coarse cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 4 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup or more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste, optional

1. Bring milk to a boil with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and add a large pinch of salt. Adjust heat so liquid simmers. Add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking as you do to prevent lumps. When it has all been added, let mixture return to a boil, then turn heat to low. Polenta should be just barely simmering.

2. Cook, stirring occasionally and being sure to scrape sides and bottom of pan, for 15 to 20 minutes, until mixture is creamy and cornmeal tastes cooked. If mixture becomes too thick, whisk in some water, about 1/2 cup at a time. (I added about 2/3 cup water in 1/3 cup increments.)

3. Taste and season polenta as necessary with salt and pepper. Take pan off stove, stir in the butter or oil and the cheese if you are using it, and serve, passing more cheese at the table if you like.

Serve with sautéed greens and a fried egg for a simple simple dinner.


  1. says

    polenta does seem to be becoming all the rage, and rightly so–it’s magnificent. congrats on your well-earned recognition, and bravo to the execution of a gorgeous and scrumptious dish!

  2. says

    I am with you Ali,
    I couldn’t believe that polenta with a fried egg and greens would be such a delicious meal.
    I am new to polenta, though my Italian mother in law has been eating it for 80 years!
    Now, if I could only get my husband to agree with us!

  3. says

    This post makes me want to try polenta again. I made it in many incarnations, thinking I just wasn’t getting the process right because the end result just left me flat. It may be that I just don’t like it, but with this idea, I may give it another shot.

    The readers are right; you’re site is gorgeous.

  4. says

    I wish I understood why dinners for one are so appealing to me, maybe it’s selfish, but I love the idea of going through the prep and cooking for myself. That being said, I think this will be the next thing I make when I dine alone. By the way, I just heard about your blog and I really enjoy it, your pictures and your words are beautiful.

  5. Denise says

    The first time I had polenta was when I was a child (at least 40 years ago) and I had cacciatore di coniglio con polenta. (Sorry for the bunnies :-( ….no bunnies for me as an adult.) I have always loved creamy savory dishes, especially polenta, risotto and mashed potatoes.

    My husband and I often eat eggs for dinner. He is the egg cooker in the family with his specialties being fried and poached. Poached eggs on roasted asparagus, fried eggs on a tortilla with peppers, onions and refried beans, eggs benedict with spinach. This dish would be perfect. Maybe I can even get him to try swiss chard, which he swears is inedible.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  6. says

    Nice photos, as alwasy!. I’m not so crazy about fried eggs, but I do love polenta and still have some chard hanging on in my garden. Think I know what I’m having for lunch!

  7. says

    If you’re looking for fellow polenta lovers, you’ve found them. We love to cook it in a million ways. This would be a great brunch dish too. Maybe stir a little bacon into the polenta…Mmm.

  8. says

    congrats, alex – brilliant choice by bittman!

    this looks heavenly. especially after a lackluster 4-hour beef burgundy experiment…must get oven thermometer.

  9. says

    i’ve been asked to make dinner for the family and have no clue what to make. HELP??!! i want to do something with vegetables or fish, no meat, i can look up the recipe but any ideas would be greatly appreciated!!


  10. Betsey says

    My sister introduced me to your blog today and I made this for dinner tonight. Everyone swooned with delight! Thanks and the blog is beautiful.

  11. says

    This looks really good! I love a dish of soft polenta but Paul isn’t keen, so it really is a solo meal for me! I usually make a napoletana sauce to pour over it, but I think this looks easier and just as delicious.

  12. says

    I just ate a huge brunch but am hungry just looking at those photos. I have a love/hate relationship with polenta – I love it but hate making it. I am definitely going to try this recipe because that looks like a perfect dinner to me.

  13. Elisa says

    Love the website, especially the beautiful photos.

    I made polenta this way tonight, and it was lumpy. I was whisking briskly as I added the cornmeal to the hot water and milk, and I continued to whisk briskly…but to no avail. There were still lots of small lumps. Maybe the key is to use the larger, stone-ground cornmeal? I would think that would be less likely to clump.

  14. says

    Actually it’s the taste of polenta that has so far turned me off- either bland or salty. But I bet using fantastic milk and cheese will solve that. Looks heavenly :)

  15. says

    this looks the most divine meal of all time. i adore fried egg over salad greens and over rice and sometimes combines…over polenta sounds heavenly.

  16. stefano arturi says

    hi there and congratulations for yr good blog.
    I have been a food writer here in Italy for some time and I admire Mark Bittman a lot. His polenta version can be bettered though. Polenta needs a longer cooking to fully exploit the potential of corn (its sweetness). 45 minutes to 1 hour is better – it does become creamy and sweet, even without any fat. Try the recipe in Hazan’s Classics. Polenta doesn’t need to to be stirred all the time, it can be cooked in the oven (covered/a good recipe in Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Grains and greens (excellent book, btw)) and you can even start with cold water (and this is what I do. I mix everything together and then I cook it in my Le Creuset, stirring lazily and occasionallly)
    I also tried (for some article I wrote way back) instant polenta.. well it is an ok/ish choice (with parmesan and butter) if one is pressed with time… but…
    polenta is very versatile indeed. I also have it just with butter and taleggio, or with some thin slice of lard (Italian lardo) over it, or mixex with vegetabels – this is called polenta incantenata (e.i. you cook the polenta and then you pour cooked beans/cooked cavolo nero?cooked carrots?cooked leeks in it towards the end / kind of Tuscan recipe)…
    ciao ciao from Milano and … well done again for your friendly and useful blgo. ciao stefano

  17. wyngrrrl says

    If anyone is looking for a good way to flip around Thanksgiving Polenta is the way to go. We added a bit of grated smoked cheddar instead of Parm and it went beautifuly with the Turkey and Mole (instead of gravy) it was hard to go back to the traditional Thanksgiving the next year with the Family.

  18. Mel says

    Mmmm…I just made this using instant polenta (high quality— or expensive as my husband would say). I didn’t have milk so I used alpro soya cream. Left out the cheese and holy moly, Fluffy! Creamy! Polenta! in 5 minutes. Okay so maybe this isn’t the best way to cook it, but for busy and lazy cooks: fantastic. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • says

      Mel — amazing discovery! I am all about lazy these days, so I think I need to get my hands on some of that instant stuff. What brand was it? Where did you find it? I love expensive :) products.

  19. Alex says

    Yummy — the perfect, comforting lunch. Divine with Zuni Cafe’s fried eggs. Thank you for teaching me how to make polenta!

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