Polenta can take your Italian-inspired cooking a step beyond pasta and pizza. A cooked cornmeal mixture, polenta is a convenient make-ahead base to serve with meat or vegetable sauces. Our test kitchen made it even easier by adapting both polenta and sauce for microwave cooking without changing the terrific Italian flavor.


1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup cold water

1 teaspoon salt

Olive oil

Spicy Meat Sauce (recipe below)

In a 4-cup microwave-safe measure, cook 3 cups water on 100 percent power (high) 4 to 6 minutes or until boiling. Meanwhile, in a 2-quart microwave-safe casserole stir together cornmeal, cold water and salt.

Slowly pour boiling water into cornmeal mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until well combined. Cook, uncovered, on high for 7 to 9 minutes or until mixture is very thick and just bubbles in center, stirring every minute.

Spread cornmeal mixture in a greased 12- by 7 1/2- by 2-inch baking dish. Set aside to cool for 45 minutes; cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

To serve, cut into 24 squares. Brush with olive oil. Cook in a large skillet over medium-low heat about 10 to 12 minutes per side or until crisp and golden. Or arrange polenta pieces on a microwave-safe platter. Cover with waxed paper; cook on 70 percent power (medium-high) 4 to 6 minutes or until hot. Serve with Spicy Meat Sauce. Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving of polenta: 90 cal., 2 g pro., 18 g carb., 1 g fat, 0 mg chol., 355 mg sodium.

SPICY MEAT SAUCE: Crumble 1 pound ground beef or turkey into a 2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Add 1/2 cup chopped onion and 2 cloves garlic, minced. Cook, covered, on 100 percent power (high) 5 to 7 minutes, stirring once. Drain meat; set aside. Wipe casserole with paper towels. In casserole combine 1 cup sliced zucchini, 1 cup chopped green pepper, one 8-ounce can tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons snipped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook, covered, on high 5 to 7 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Stir in hot meat; spoon over polenta. Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving of sauce: 183 cal., 18 g pro., 7 g carb., 9 g fat, 61 mg chol., 445 mg sodium.