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Polenta with chickpeas and tomatoes is pantry-friendly comfort food

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Polenta With Chickpeas and Tomatoes
Total time:25 mins
Total time:25 mins
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During the winter months, when sunshine is scarce, cozy suppers are what I crave. For me that means soups and stews, pastas and comforting bowls of grains. Lately I’ve been turning to creamy polenta topped with chickpeas and tomatoes to satisfy my cravings.

If it’s especially chilly where you live, here’s a bonus: This dish calls only for canned goods and a few other pantry staples, so you won’t need to leave the warmth of your kitchen to make it.

Creamy, comforting polenta is the warm hug you need this winter

The recipe starts with sauteing an onion in olive oil — as many great recipes do — with whole fennel seeds, garlic powder, salt and pepper. A can of chickpeas adds substance and protein, while fire-roasted tomatoes bind it together with the fruit’s characteristic sweet-tart flavor profile and a kiss of smoke. (If you don’t have fire-roasted tomatoes, you can use regular canned diced tomatoes and add a sprinkle of smoked paprika as a substitute.)

While the chickpea and tomato mixture does its thing, make the polenta.

Polenta is a simple porridge made of cornmeal that turns the humble ingredient into a dish worthy of royalty. It’s made by bringing the liquid of your choosing to a boil — I used water in my testing, but if you have stock on hand, it lends more flavor — and slowly whisking in the ground corn in a steady stream to prevent lumps. Although you can find packages labeled “polenta” in the grocery store aisle, and I prefer the texture of a coarser grind as stated in the ingredient list below, whatever cornmeal you have in your cupboard will do.

A guide to cornmeal, grits and polenta — and how to know when to use them

Lastly, a bit of butter adds creaminess and flavor. I exercised restraint in the amount called for so as to not scare anyone who looks at the nutrition information, but know that the delightfully decadent bowls of polenta you’ve enjoyed at restaurants can contain multiples more. So feel free to use the recipe amount as a starting point if richness is what you’re after.

The polenta serves as a welcoming canvas for the simply seasoned chickpea and tomato mixture, providing me with a sense of calm and comfort in mere minutes — I hope it will do the same for you. And if you’re in the mood for an extra flourish, a sprinkling of grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers for up to four days. To reheat the polenta, add it to a saucepan over medium-low heat with additional water or stock, whisking to smooth it out, until hot. Taste and season with more salt, if needed.

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For the chickpeas and tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (about 7 ounces), diced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • One (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes

For the polenta

  • 4 cups water or unsalted or low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) medium or stone ground cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces (may substitute with vegan butter)

Step 1

Make the chickpeas and tomatoes: In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, fennel seeds, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to soften and turn translucent, about five minutes.

Step 2

Add the chickpeas and tomatoes, let it come to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces and the flavors meld, 7 to 10 minutes. Taste, and season with more salt and/or pepper, if needed.

Step 3

Make the polenta: Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the water or broth to a boil. While whisking steadily to prevent lumps, slowly pour in the cornmeal. Whisk in the salt, reduce the heat to low, so the liquid is at a gentle simmer, cover partially (to protect from eruptions), and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the butter, a piece at a time, until fully incorporated. Taste, and season with more salt, if needed.

To serve, divide the polenta among four bowls and top with the chickpea and tomato mixture.

Nutrition Information

Per serving (1 cup polenta plus 3/4 cup chickpea and tomato mixture)

Calories: 427; Total Fat: 21 g; Saturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 30 mg; Sodium: 890 mg; Carbohydrates: 52 g; Dietary Fiber: 9 g; Sugar: 7 g; Protein: 9 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Recipe from staff writer Aaron Hutcherson.

Tested by Aaron Hutcherson; email questions to

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