Baked Polenta with Za’atar Tomatoes

This Ottolenghi recipe comes from OTK – the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen “Extra Good Things.” (There are other OTK cookbooks.) There’s a good video of the recipe being made online here. The full name is Baked Polenta with Feta, Bechamel, and Za’Atar Tomatoes.

The recipe got my attention for the obvious reasons – cheesy polenta, bechamel, feta, tomatoes, and za’atar. This “pizza” polenta is supposed to be made on a sheet pan, but to avoid potential messiness, I opted for a gratin pan. As expected, my polenta layer is a little thicker than in the video, but it’s easy to slice!

Ottolenghi has this thing about slow-roasted and charred cherry tomatoes, like with his Grilled Prawns, Corn, and Tomato Salad, which is great, but I don’t love the feeling of tomato skins in my mouth. Obviously raw tomatoes wouldn’t work in this dish, but you could always opt for using peeled large tomatoes that are chopped. It of course wouldn’t be as pretty.

Baked Polenta with Feta, Bechamel, and Za’Atar Tomatoes

3 ounces unsalted butter
1 1/2 ounces plain flour
25 ounces whole milk
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
7 ounces quick-cook polenta
3 ounces pecorino romano, roughly grated
6 ounces Greek feta, roughly crumbled
Oregano sprigs (try to use the softer sprigs)

Za’Atar tomatoes:
15 ounces datterini or cherry tomatoes
4 ounces olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoon za’atar
1⁄2 tsp caster sugar
Parsley, roughly chopped
Oregano leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Put the tomatoes, oil, vinegar, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper into a medium baking dish, roughly 8 x 12 inches. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 40–45 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until the tomatoes have just burst but aren’t completely falling apart.

Remove the foil, gently stir in the za’atar and sugar and leave to cool completely. Once cool, stir in the herbs (gently, so as not to break up the tomatoes).

Turn the heat up to 450 degrees F. Line a large baking tray roughly 12 x 16 inches in size with baking parchment.

Put 1 1/2 ounces of the butter into a medium saucepan over a medium- high heat. Once melted, add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 30 seconds or until it smells like popcorn. Slowly pour in 12 ounces of the milk, whisking continuously to avoid any lumps, then add the garlic, 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper, turn the heat down to medium and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until quite thick and no longer floury-tasting. Set aside and cover with a piece of baking parchment, to stop a skin forming.

Meanwhile, prepare the polenta by first putting the remaining 13 1/2 ounces of milk, 10 ounces of water, 0.7 ounces of the butter, 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt and a good grind of pepper into a medium sauté pan (or saucepan) over a medium-high heat. Once it gently bubbles, turn the heat down to medium-low, slowly add the polenta, whisking continuously to incorporate, and cook for 2 minutes, to thicken.

Add the pecorino and the remaining 0.7 ounces of butter and stir with a spatula until incorporated. Quickly transfer to your prepared baking tray and spread out in a large oblong shape about 1/2 inch thick and 15 inches in length. Spoon over the béchamel and spread it so it covers the surface, leaving a 3/4 inch rim exposed around the edges.

Top evenly with the feta and the oregano sprigs and bake for 22 minutes, or until golden and bubbling on top and starting to brown around the edges. Leave to cool for 5–10 minutes.

Spoon about half the za’atar tomatoes on top of the baked polenta, serving the rest in a bowl alongside.

Use a pizza cutter (or a knife) to easily cut into slabs and serve warm.

This “pizza” would be wonderful served with a dressed green salad. It was definitely good, except for my issue with tomato skins!

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

53 Comments

  1. Judee the Foodie October 2, 2023 at 6:23 AM - Reply

    OMG Mimi, this looks absoltutley amazing. What a fabulous recipe. I’m ready to dig in right now!!!

    • Chef Mimi October 2, 2023 at 7:45 AM - Reply

      It was really good! Loved the bechamel addition.

  2. Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen October 2, 2023 at 7:37 AM - Reply

    This looks beautiful Mimi. I think I would make it thicker as well, and the tomato topping is pretty perfect!

    • Chef Mimi October 2, 2023 at 7:45 AM - Reply

      It was very good and very pretty indeed!

  3. David Scott Allen October 2, 2023 at 10:00 AM - Reply

    This is absolutely beautiful, Mimi! I love the gratin dish instead of sheet pan — I also like to make everything look beautiful when serving. Makes me wonderful about Individual gratin dishes… hmmm. And I love Ottolenghi but this recipe, like many of his others, is actually making several recipes to make the one. Not a quick and easy, but it looks worth it! Also, I totally agree with you about the tomato skins but, as you say, there aren’t really any options to make it as petty as this!

    • Chef Mimi October 2, 2023 at 11:44 AM - Reply

      Yes, you’re right. This recipe was a bit involved. But I’ll eat anything with a white sauce!

  4. Sherry Mackay October 2, 2023 at 8:08 PM - Reply

    you may remember how i feel about tomatoes (aarrgghh) and certainly the skin on small roasted tomatoes would not please my tastebuds :=) I really must check Ottolenghi out one day…

    • Chef Mimi October 3, 2023 at 9:08 AM - Reply

      I get it! I don’t like the skins, although I love tomatoes!

  5. Tandy | Lavender and Lime October 2, 2023 at 10:51 PM - Reply

    I’m with you on tomato skins! Love this dish though. 

    • Chef Mimi October 3, 2023 at 9:11 AM - Reply

      I didn’t know there were others out there! I don’t mind popping them out of their skins, but I’d rather not even see the skins!

  6. BERNADETTE October 3, 2023 at 5:38 AM - Reply

    This looks delicious. I just bought a bag of polenta so I may prepare this for dinner this week. I am not a fan of tomato skins either. I think I am going to think of a work around for that part. Stay tuned!

    • Chef Mimi October 3, 2023 at 9:10 AM - Reply

      Okay good luck! I don’t think chopped tomatoes would be unsightly!

  7. carrietalkingmeals October 3, 2023 at 5:48 AM - Reply

    Oh my goodness, Mimi! I am literally drooling over here. What a stunning looking dish. I cannot wait to make this.

    • Chef Mimi October 3, 2023 at 9:09 AM - Reply

      Leave it to Mr. Ottolenghi!

  8. Anonymous October 3, 2023 at 6:57 AM - Reply

    This baked polenta looks heavenly. Love the flavor profile and it’s a great meatless Monday idea. Just need a glass of wine to go with !

    • Chef Mimi October 3, 2023 at 9:09 AM - Reply

      Absolutely!

  9. Charlie DeSando October 3, 2023 at 7:52 AM - Reply

    Mimi, great combination of flavors, I do love polenta, nicely done

    • Chef Mimi October 3, 2023 at 9:09 AM - Reply

      Polenta really is wonderful!

  10. sarchakra October 3, 2023 at 2:52 PM - Reply

    Absolutely LOVE how inviting this looks – would be so great for a dinner party/ entertaining etc.

    • Chef Mimi October 3, 2023 at 4:24 PM - Reply

      Yes, it would! It’s very pretty!

  11. Ann Coleman October 3, 2023 at 3:00 PM - Reply

    Your recipes are always so easy to follow…more so than in most cookbooks I read.

    • Chef Mimi October 3, 2023 at 4:24 PM - Reply

      Well that is a wonderful compliment!

  12. neil@neilshealthymeals.com October 4, 2023 at 12:03 AM - Reply

    I think this would be a great dish to pack slices of for a picnic!

    • Chef Mimi October 4, 2023 at 7:29 AM - Reply

      Great idea!

  13. 2pots2cook October 4, 2023 at 1:50 AM - Reply

    Amazing! Amazing!

    • Chef Mimi October 4, 2023 at 7:29 AM - Reply

      Thank you! Ottolenghi has great recipes.

  14. spicedblog October 4, 2023 at 6:46 AM - Reply

    Ooo…this sounds fantastic! We’re always looking for a way to use za’atar, and a baked polenta sounds like a winner to me!

    • Chef Mimi October 4, 2023 at 7:29 AM - Reply

      I know what you mean. Za’atar is so so good!

  15. Eva Taylor October 4, 2023 at 12:40 PM - Reply

    You had me at polenta and béchamel! Wow, what a gorgeous dish. Definitely going to give this a go.

    • Chef Mimi October 4, 2023 at 5:19 PM - Reply

      I understand! I could eat just about anything with bechamel!

  16. Debra October 4, 2023 at 5:50 PM - Reply

    There 

  17. Debra October 4, 2023 at 5:52 PM - Reply

    There isn’t one thing about this recipe that doesn’t sound absolutely wonderful! I am a big tomato fan, and that one addition put the polenta over the top for me! ❤️

    • Chef Mimi October 4, 2023 at 6:07 PM - Reply

      He really is a genius!

  18. Pauline McNee October 4, 2023 at 9:18 PM - Reply

    This looks delicious Mimi, I love tomatoes cooked this way, and it’s a tasty way to eat Polenta not a grain I often cook with. A healthy, colourful and very tasty fish for sure. Its just a matter of finding the best tomatoes, makes a difference. Thanks for sharing this one.

    • Chef Mimi October 5, 2023 at 10:39 AM - Reply

      Absolutely! You’re so welcome!

  19. Anonymous October 5, 2023 at 3:53 AM - Reply

    A beautiful dish Mimi. We enjoy Ottolenghi’s recipes, but we’ve not made this one. You make it look so tasty that I have to make it…

    • Chef Mimi October 5, 2023 at 10:39 AM - Reply

      It was very good. I just have a problem with tomato skins!

      • Ron October 6, 2023 at 3:32 AM

        I’m with you regarding the tomato skins. I always shove them to the side.

      • Chef Mimi October 6, 2023 at 7:57 AM

        So far, it seems like the majority of folks don’t like tomato skins!

  20. Anonymous October 5, 2023 at 9:38 PM - Reply

    This is definitely a different way to serve polenta, but it looks amazing!!!

  21. valentina maria kenney wein October 7, 2023 at 11:37 AM - Reply

    Mimi, I will definitely be making this. It’s so up my alley and it’s something that my entire family will love — and that’s not small feat with 3 different diets among the 4 of us. Polenta has always been one of my favorite things to include in cozy dishes like this. And with the Feta, oh my! :-) ~Valentina

    • Chef Mimi October 7, 2023 at 12:22 PM - Reply

      Oh my gosh! I find it challenging when my pescatarian daughter visits! Well I’m so glad I could help!

      • cookingontheweekends May 9, 2024 at 12:50 AM

        Finally, I made this! It was fun to make and so delicious! All the boys loved it, and I’ll definitely be making it again. And again! :-) ~Valentina

      • Chef Mimi May 9, 2024 at 8:54 AM

        Oh fantastic! I also thought it was wonderful.

  22. Jeff the Chef October 8, 2023 at 10:39 AM - Reply

    This sounds wonderful. I love za’atar. I’ve never made a dish like this, which is always a plus for me – and adventure! Thanks!

    • Chef Mimi October 8, 2023 at 10:53 AM - Reply

      You’re so welcome Jeff! I love za’atar as well. I should use it more often.

  23. Karen (Back Road Journal) October 9, 2023 at 1:20 PM - Reply

    I like your idea of making it thicker if I was preparing this for a meal for 2 to 4. If I was having a large dinner party, I think I might do the thinner version and serve small pieces it as an appetizer. Thanks Mimi!

    • Chef Mimi October 9, 2023 at 1:38 PM - Reply

      I agree with you! It would hold together perfectly cut into small pieces.

  24. Anonymous October 9, 2023 at 5:21 PM - Reply

    How I wish I had this on my table for dinner tonight! It’s the definition of comfort food, and a perfect transitory dish into warmer fall fare while still making the most of ripe tomatoes.

    • Chef Mimi October 10, 2023 at 2:55 PM - Reply

      That’s a great description of this dish! I still have green tomatoes on the bushes – hope I still have tomatoes for a good while.

  25. Hannah Kaminsky October 9, 2023 at 5:22 PM - Reply

    Oops, somehow I wasn’t logged in. Anonymous above is me. 😅

  26. Raymund October 11, 2023 at 4:08 PM - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this delightful Baked Polenta recipe. The combination of cheesy polenta, bechamel, feta, tomatoes, and za’atar sounds amazing. I can almost taste the flavors through your description!

    • Chef Mimi October 11, 2023 at 5:26 PM - Reply

      Polenta topped with a white sauce?! Yes, it was incredible. Love za’atar.

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