Polenta doesn’t tend to get the spotlight it deserves in American eating patterns as a fantastic staple carbohydrate. As a whole grain it provides a variety of nutrients, when prepped well is absolutely delicious and is so filling and satiating, too! When I first made polenta from scratch years ago, it was one of those weeks that I was sick of every other starch and looking for something new. But, the pre-made polenta in the tube from the grocery store just wasn’t the texture for me. I make it in a variety of ways, but as a busy working mom, I most recommend that you make slow cooker polenta to pack in flavor and save a lot of time!
This post is written in partnership with Pacific Coast Producers, a leader in steam peeled tomato production. Thanks to them for making it possible to distribute this information! As always, I only engage in partnerships with those whose philosophies align with my own.
Health Benefits of Polenta
Polenta is simply ground corn, so it offers all of the benefits of that grain! Corn may get a bad reputation, but there’s no real reason for it. While it is not a vegetable as it’s often labeled, corn is a whole grain. Whole grain intake is associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers while also being linked to a more diverse and well-functioning microbiome.
A 1/4 cup dry serving, which in this recipe equates to roughly 1 cup cooked, contains about 3 grams of protein and is a great source of energy, especially for active lifestyles. While it’s a bit lower in fiber than some other grains, this means it may be better to include in the diet of someone with a high activity level, or an athlete, especially in meals close to athletic events such as tournaments or road races! Still, about one quarter of the starch in polenta is considered a “resistance starch”. This means it is digested a bit more slowly which can result in improved satiety versus other starches.
While corn (and therefore polenta) has smaller amounts of nutrients such as potassium and b vitamins, it also provides phytochemical antioxidants. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are present and are associated with better eye and cognitive health. Pair them with the lycopene in canned tomatoes (another carotenoid) and there are also positive associations with reduced risks of certain cancers as well as heart health.
How to Cook Polenta
While the store bought “tubes” of polenta are just fine and make for a quick starch when you haven’t planned ahead, preparing your own polenta results in a much creamier texture. If you want a fast option without the slow cooker, quick cook polenta is available. Similar to quick cook grits, they’re cooked in advance and re-dried to speed up the process. It might not be as creamy, but offers a more fresh texture than the heat and eat versions.
When cooking for longer over the stove, or in the slow cooker or pressure cooker, you’ll want to use traditional polenta, which is either coarse or finely ground corn. I use both and due to the longer cooking process, you’ll get a creamier texture either way. When cooking on the stove top, if planning to eat right away, I prefer the finely ground polenta for the texture. However, if prepping in advance and planning to reheat, course ground is my recommendation. Over the stove you’ll be whisking for a good 30 minutes though. While I love to make polenta this way, I don’t have the time very often with 2 little boys running around, which is how I landed on this slow cooker polenta recipe!
For the slow cooker polenta with tomatoes, you’ll also want to choose the course ground versus finely ground corn polenta. If you work with finely ground, it will likely be too sticky in texture for both eating and in terms of sticking to the slow cooker basin! It’s similar to using a quick cook oat versus steel cut oat in a slow cooker. What’s great about this method is that if you don’t have time, you don’t have to stir it at all. Just set it for 3.5 hours and let it go for an extra 30 minutes if you’d like a thicker texture. If you are able, stirring once an hour and scraping the sides may help with cleanup, but there shouldn’t be too much sticking regardless.
Why Crushed Steam Peeled Tomatoes?
Typically polenta is cooked with either broth, milk, or a mixture of the two and water. In this slow cooker polenta recipe, I’ve replaced broth with crushed steam peeled tomatoes with basil. Crushed tomatoes provide more liquid than a diced version making it a great alternative to broth. Choosing crushed tomatoes with basil also means added freshness and a nod to the Italian origins of the dish.
Fun fact: when choosing steam peeled canned crushed tomatoes, you’re choosing a more sustainable option! The steaming process for removing peels results in zero waste as the evaporated water is used for the steaming itself and the peels are repurposed into a tomato puree that is used in your cans of crushed tomatoes. Since learning about the sustainability of Pacific Coast Producer’s processing for private label tomatoes, we choose the steam peeled version whenever it’s available. The tomatoes go from field to can in under 5 hours, locking in nutrients and maintaining high quality color and texture.
Milk. With a dairy protein allergy, my go-to is unsweetened plain soymilk so that I’m still getting the fat and protein. Pea protein milk alternatives are also an option, but you may want to add a tablespoon of olive oil if there is no fat in the product you purchase. If using dairy milk, choose 2% or whole for a creamier texture.
Pair with veggies. I kept it more Italian themed when I prepped this slow cooker polenta with tomatoes for these photos and just sauteed squash with garlic and olive oil for about 10 minutes before serving. It’s also delicious with roasted brussels sprouts and carrots, or just served over fresh spinach for a real time saver.
Pair with protein. Maybe you prepped protein ahead for the week and can add a portion of what is already made, but if not, you’ll want to add a simple protein source so you have enough for continued muscle repair and maintenance as well as satiety and blood sugar maintenance. For the fastest options, grab some hard boiled eggs or rinse and drain some white beans. If you have a few minutes, heat up some crumbled tempeh or fry some eggs or tofu.
More Canned Steam Peeled Tomatoes
If you want more information on the steam peeled canned tomatoes, check out this post with a helpful infographic. And for more simple recipes, check out my easy eggplant shakshuka and 10 minute lentil tacos.
Slow Cooker Polenta With Tomatoes
- 1 28 ounce can crushed, steem peeled canned tomatoes with basil or plain
- 4 cups milk or unsweetened plain soymilk
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups yellow corn polenta
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp crushed black pepper
- 2 tbsp butter or vegan buttery spread
- In slow cooker basin, stir together all ingredients before covering and setting on low for 3.5-4 hours. If you're home and able, stir once each hour to prevent sticking.
- Serve with roasted vegetables and garlic and a pre-prepped or quick cook protein. Garnish with parmesan or vegan parmesan alternative.
- Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator up to 7 days or in the freezer up to 3 months.