Making polenta used to intimidate me. It conjured images of Nonnas in widows’ weeds, standing at the stove, stirring, stirring, stirring. My arm ached just to think about it. And then a wise friend clued me in to the little miracle known as the slow cooker. I’ve made countless pots of beans, stews, and soups in my trusty Crock-Pot. I even use it for overnight steel-cut oatmeal, but it had never occurred to me that its gentle heat might be perfect for creating a creamy, satisfying bowl of Italian comfort food.
It is. Perfect.
In contrast to the stovetop version, slow-cooker polenta requires only two periods of stirring—once in the morning, to combine the grain and the liquid, and again before serving, to break up any lumps and ensure you’re getting your desired consistency. This version adds spinach, Parmesan, and crispy bits of pancetta to make a complete dinner in one dish.
Debbie Koenig is the author of the cookbook Parents Need to Eat Too. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.
Coat a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Add the polenta, water, and salt and whisk together well. Cover and cook on LOW for 7-9 hours.
Whisk again to break up any lumps, and if you’d like a creamier consistency, whisk in 1/2 cup boiling water. Add the spinach and grated Parmesan. Cover and set on WARM while you prepare the pancetta.
Cook the pancetta in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 6-8 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Spoon the polenta into bowls and top each portion with some pancetta and additional Parmesan.