Cornmeal Crunch Recipe

This is what happens when you cook a pot of cornmeal until it is thick and creamy. Add a bit off cheese, some deeply caramelized onions, spread it in a pan, drizzle generously with olive oil and bake until the bottom and sides are deeply golden and crunchy.

Cornmeal Crunch

This is what happens when you cook a pot of cornmeal until it is thick and creamy. Add a bit off cheese, some deeply caramelized onions, spread it in a pan, drizzle generously with olive oil and bake until the bottom and sides are deeply golden and crunchy. The insides stay a tad bit melty and creamy, the caramelized onions on top add depth and sweetness.

Cornmeal Crunch Recipe

We've been doing all sorts of things with the leftovers - dunking slabs in stews, slathering pieces with goat cheese, tossing smaller cubes into salads, and (my personal favorite) topping with sauteed spinach.

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Cornmeal Crunch Recipe

I make an effort to buy whole grain cornmeal - this is cornmeal that still has the nutritious bran and germ included. You can easily make this recipe vegan by omitting the cheese.

1 1/2 cups (medium grind) cornmeal
fine grain sea salt
4 cups yellow onion, chopped (about 3 medium)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
3 cups water or vegetable broth

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees, racks in the middle. Butter and flour (or line bottom with parchment paper) one 9 x 12-inch baking dish or tart pan - or roughly this size.

In a medium bowl combine the corn meal with 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir and set aside.

To caramelize the onions, heat a splash of olive oil in a large thick-bottomed skillet with a pinch or two of salt. Cook over high heat, stirring and scraping the pan occasionally - more often as the onions begin to get increasingly brown. Continue cooking until the onions collapse and turn deep brown in color. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Bring 1 1/2 cups water (or broth) to a boil in a medium saucepan, add the water and cornmeal mixture, bring back up to a boil and stir until it is thicker than a heavy frosting - about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese and 2/3 of the onions. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it to an even thickness, and drizzle with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the bottom is golden and the cornmeal begins to pull away from the sides of the pan a bit. Serve topped with the remaining onions (and more grated cheese if you like).

Makes about 16 pieces.

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Heidi, the dish was simply delicious. I was doubtful at first about mixing cornflour and cold water. In Italy we always cook the polenta completely before baking it. I also wasn’t sure about the quantity of water because every cornflour doesn’t necessarily need the same amount of water. I followed your directions instead and it came out of the right consistency and not overcooked. I saute the onions at low medium heat though and scooped the 1/3 on top of the dish before baking it. It came out crunchy and extremely tasty. Thanks again!


Shelley – did your attempt to make corn meal out of popping-corn work out? All I know about corn is that different strains of corn are put to different uses, so I’m curious – and I hope you’re right.


This is the best polenta recipe that I have ever tried. The onions were perfect in this recipe. I think I may have enough left over for leftovers. For anyone new to polenta, you have got to try this recipe.


Wow, mouth watering. Will ask my mom to try it, I’m not too good at cooking.


heidi – thank you so much for all the beautifully inspiring recipes! i read your blog all the way over here in new zealand and love your fresh, unprocessed, original recipes and gorgeous photographs.

emma boyd

Gaaah! Just made this. It looks and tastes delicious – as well it should with all the cheese and oil! – but I did something wrong – no slabs for me, more like crumbly pieces. I didn’t have any paper so I buttered and floured the dish (obviously not enough because it stuck to the bottom somewhat) and I couldn’t find ANY medium cornmeal here in France, only the instant kind. I shall however try to find it – am sure I can get it somewhere in Lyon. Also my onions came out bitter even though I stirred them constantly. So – next time I think a little more care and time is needed on my part. Am serving with a seasonal parsnip and jerusalem artichoke soup. Definitely want to try it again because of the leftover possibilities! Thanks Heidi – your blog is brilliant.


I made this on Sunday night and have been eating the leftovers as part of my lunch this week. Mine too was thicker than expected, and was crunchy on top but very gooey inside. I did not want to cook it any longer and risk burning the top. The onion flavor is fabulous! I put foil over the pan that I cooked it in, and it is now very soggy. Still tastes good, just not the cornmeal crunchiness I was expecting. Maybe a larger pan would do it?


I made this last night…looking for something a little different to offer the family as a side at Thanksgiving. It was very good…but i just thought that it was going to be sweet…it was not at all (aside from the onions). My wife put honey on top…perfect complement. Thanks for the recipe..i’ll definitely make again.


I believe you can make your own corn meal by grinding popcorn. I have an electric mill that I grind my wheat in and it also grinds garbanzo beans (to make besan) and corn. I am trying this recipe tonight. Thank you for the great recipes. I am always on the prowl for simple, whole food recipes. I am no longer paying the price in health and $ for processed foods.


I make a big (5 large onions) batch of carmalized onions ahead of time and keep them in the fridge (for weeks and weeks) to make short work of recipes like this. It keeps my options open & is a huge time saver.
Also, Christina Pirello’s cookbook has a great/ easy recipe for onion “butter,” a vegan-friendly and versatile condiment.


Hi – I live in France but could only find organic instant polenta – can I make the recipe as-is, without modification?


Hi Heidi,
This comment isnt connected to this post but to your post on meringues. I have been trying (unsuccessfully) to make meringues since i was in my teens. I was obsessed with trying to recreate the flavour and texture of bakery-bought meringues at home and i usually ended up with charred or flat or goey gunk that would not come off the baking tray.
And then last week i tried your recipe and followed your directions to the last full stop. And it was perfect. Absolutely perfect. I realized i had never beat the egg whites enough nor baked it at the correct temperature.
Your directions on the consistency of the egg whites, and the time i should beat the egg were so helpful. Also your beating egg whites post – which helped me understand how best to make egg whites work for you.
Thank you so much. I realize now how easy it is to make meringues and i plan to use the recipe over and over again.
I love your blog and i have been following it for over a year or more and i think you do an admirable job of making healthy vegetarian food look exciting and beautiful and desirable. Believe me, as a life-long vegetarian i have always wondered why vegetarian food always got the short end of the stick. Not any more. 101cookbooks has opened a world of healthy vegetarian cooking that keeps me plied with new recipes.
thank you.


Made this over the weekend and it was very good when served hot out of the oven. I reheated it tonight and while the texture had become tougher, the flavor of the onion had permeated offering a different experience of the same dish!


I made this, i added a box of chopped spinach and a half cup of feta cheese. I loved it, i have never made cornmeal like this i wanted to put an egg in to give it some body . but went along with the recipe and am glad i did, i love your recipes, the Nickkis healthy cookies are a favorite at my house now, always keep a supply handy for the grand children, thanks again for some really great cooking.


Now THAT’s cornmeal mush!


Wow! Wow! Wow! Saw the recipe yesterday afternoon & just HAD to make it for dinner last night. OUTSTANDING!!! That little crunch on the edges contrasted with the moist, oniony-cheesy center — it was soooo good! I took Heidi’s recommendation to top with sauteed spinach & mushrooms (shitake & baby bella) & a little more parm grated on top. My husband & guest loved it!!! Thank you Heidi for posting such healthy, beautiful, real/whole food for us to enjoy with our eyes & stomachs 🙂


I’ve got a name for this. American Bruschetta. Pretty good, eh? Oh, it’s good!


Recently I made the caramelized tofu, the black bean brownies, the caramel apples, and yesterday, the apple cake. All have been stellar. Thanks for the work you put into the posts, both recipes & photos–a labor of love, but still labor, heehee. I’m asking for “Super Natural Cooking” for Christmas.


gorgeous! i adore polenta/cornmeal.
two suggestions: try polenta with tomato sauce (fabulous!), or with a dollop of yoghurt. the combination with tomato sauce would be great witha bit of cheese on top, too, but it’s not necessary. they go so well together!


Looks like a nice fall recipe. I’ll try it this evening, but my usual accompaniment with cornmeal is red onions that have been marinated in balsamic vinegar and dark brown sugar. Mmm, I’m getting hungry just thinking of it.


I found your site thanks to another fabulous wholefoods cook, Jude Blereau. Have managed to lose more than an hour without even blinking – and I haven’t touched the surface yet. Never been a big fan of polenta (as we call it in Australia), but I’m starting with this recipe tonight because I think the caramelised onions could be a winner. Then I’m going to work my way through the list! Thanks for sharing (and thanks for the tip Jude)…


Looks SO good…I must try for my GF BFF that cannot eat anything even remotely yummy…except chocolate! Thanks for the great ideas. LOVE your site and will be reading much more!!

Donna @Stuff Cooks Want

Made this yesterday, am eating the leftovers now! I think I may have cooked my polento just a tad too long because it seemed kind of stiff, but I added a few gluggs of heavy cream and then it was perfect.
Wonderful recipe, can’t wait to make it again.


I made this tonight with a few additions and substitutions. I used red onion, added a drizzle of maple syrup in with the cornmeal, and browned some vegetarian sausage to be added in with the onions. Finally, I topped the dish with a little fresh time. Sweet and savory and oh so good! A complete meal in a single pan! Thanks for the recipe.


Thanks for a fabulous recipe Heidi – this was the perfect side for our dinner of vegetarian chili on this cold November Toronto night!


A simple recipe that is versatile and sounds absolutely delicious. I love the caramelized onions in the recipe.


Does anyone have any ideas for baking this dish into individual ramekins? How long should I cook them for, and should I alter the recipe?


I put caramelized onions in / on everything. I make a green bean casserole every Thanksgiving and top it will caramelized onions. It is fabulous. I bet Gorgonzola on top of the cornmeal would be very tasty too. This is going in the must try pile. Thanks.


Your blog is super. So are your photographies. They make me hungry. I have spent a nice moment when seeing them. Thanks a lot.


You have my official permission to castigate me if referencing another blog in the comments is verboten…
But Tigers and Strawberries (which along with 101 Cookbooks is in my list of favorite food blogs) has very excellent and very detailed instructions in how to caramelize onions properly. If anyone’s interested:


Wow! Just took this out of the oven & it looks & smells divine. Am serving it wth your black bean chowder (from Rancho Gordo) & a smothered cabbage recipe I found in Vergé’s vegetable book. Add a salad, which my guests are bringing & I’m golden. Thanks, Heidi! P.S. to Nancy re: caramelizing onions, I don’t salt & add a Tbsp or so of sugar AND I use a copper pan. The even heat distribution of the copper makes browning w/o burning a given. Salt after. When I cooked the cornmeal, I did it also in a copper pan, so no sticking.


I do believe I may make this for Turkey Day, instead of stuffing, for my first gluten-free (and mostly sugar-free, and of course dairy-free… dear gods) Thanksgiving.
Thanks for the recipe. 🙂


I made this last night using Goya Masa Fina – fine cornmeal, it was all I had on hand. While the flavor was great and the top was nice and crunchy, the inside was a little mushy. I would recommend following the recipe and getting whole cornmeal, or at least a coarse grind – it would have given it better interior texture. That said, it was still delicous.


Heidi … you have helped to change my life … well, at least my diet!
Yesterday, I made your ricotta cheesecake with zucchini and corn (I was shy 1/2 c. ricotta so I added one more egg … it was bit dry and crumbly but still delicious); than I made Nikki’s healthy cookies AND the golden-crusted brussel sprouts. I didn’t think I liked B.sprouts but they were among the veggies in my last CSA delivery (boo hoo! Chicago winter is here … on to icky, expensive produce!). THEY WERE AMAZING! I almost ate the whole thing. And now … this lovely gluten-free cornmeal and onions? HELLO! I love you!


i thought this would be good corn bread substitute to go with chili but the bottom and sides never got deeply golden and crunchy. it was about 2in tall from the bottom of the tart pan. i am starting to think the pan i used was too small. . .? but it was still LEGIT, great recipe!


Ohhh this looks good! I adore polenta, but my family does not. Well, one daughter says it’s “ok”. I am always looking for different ways to disguise dishes with cornmeal, and I’m going to give this one a shot!
Really, it would be SO much easier to cook if it were just me 😉 hehe

Trish in MO

I make a polenta recipe similar to this. I adapted it as an experiment to try it with Thai flavours and it goes really well with sweet chilli jam. One of my favourites!
I love the idea of the caramelised onions and the goats cheese. Thanks for a great website Heidi!


From Fall Favorites, Just wanted to let you know that I got the book The Family at Home Love Life Style and am giving it as a baby shower gift to a good friend who is a designer, her husband is an architect, they will loooove it. Thanks! (sorry for posting this in the incorrect entry)


This looks delicious! I’ve been using a pre-made corn meal crust for my pizzas; do you have a good recipe for one?


I made this today for the first time. When my husband came in the house, he immediately commented (just from the smell of the onions carmelizing in the olive oil I guess) that he knew something good was cooking. After he ate it, without my asking he gave the recipe two big thumbs up and said it was “one of the best new recipes for all of 2008”.
I didn’t follow the directions exactly: I used regular cornmeal from the grocery store that I had on hand. I also baked it in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet (I always bake my cornbread in cast iron skillets). Instead of waiting for the “crunch” to cook before putting the rest of the onions on, I mixed them with the olive oil and spread the whole thing on top before baking.
The recipe didn’t come out very crunchy at all – perhaps I didn’t cook it long enough but it *was* pulling away from the sides of the skillet. It was more than a polenta, not quite a “crisp”, but definitely tasty.


Heidi: thanks for the wonderful and inspiring recipe. Mine’s in the oven now, looks and smells wonderful, the perfect thing for a very blustery night here in So. Cal.
Question: is your tart pan a true 9″ x 9″. It looks European so it’s probably a non-standard size for the US. I have a 9 x 9 baking dish just for when a recipe calls for one, so the thickness will be the same. I made the recipe exactly as posted (and measured, which I rarely do) and my cornmeal crunch is much thicker than the one in your picture. Just wondering. Thanks!
HS: Hi Kristine – I’ll remeasure it when I get home tomorrow (Im in Portland right now). And in the meantime I’ll bump the pan size up to 9×12 up above. It was about 1/2 – 3/4 inch thick I’d say…

Kristine in SB

I love the texture of cornmeal and would think that it would mesh beautifully with caramelized onions. Thanks for this wonderful-sounding recipe!

Lainie Petersen

Thanks for this recipe. It looks a lot easier than polenta and a lot more satisfying.


Hm, the leftovers sound promising–especially as soup dunkers. I agree with Melissa about a dressing–I make a cornbread, apple, and carmelized onion dressing, so this is only a few steps away!

Erin @ Sprouted in the Kitchen

yea! polenta is so versatile… however it is hard to find organic corn grits at the reg grocery store, even Bob’s Red Mill is regular!…which means gmo corn.


This looks absolutely delicious. I remember the polenta dish in an Italian restaurant with a beefstock, or browned mushroom sauce or gravy on top. I woke up salivating the next morning.
I get a bit concerned when I hear about people going gluten free, because if the sensitivity problem stems from an overgrowth of candida, or the imbalance of intestinal flora, the fungal roots can pass proteins of the new foods into the body, and create more allergies and autoimmune responses. Enzymes can break down the protein walls of Candida or yeast, without die-off symptoms, that can make people really sick. Then an innoculation of probiotics that actually get past the stomach acid are necessary, and changing the acid/alkaline balance to create a healthy climate and discourage the yeast/cancer/disease acidic environment. Sinus, bladder and prostate issues many times are fungal based. Strong reactions to cig smoke, etc. are all signs of Candida. Just for your info, as a friend who’s been there.
[email protected]


This looks really good!


Nancy, cooking onions can be tedious. Why not save most of the bother by microwaving them? You have two options.
1. Cook them until they are very soft and reduced. Finish in saute pan.
2. With a little bit of oil cook them all the way. You have to watch carefully towards the end. Frequent stirring.
This technique is great for onion soup.

Caramelizing onions

Just put it in the oven! I’m recovering from the stomach flu and still can’t eat much more than breads and broths. I think this recipe is the perfect step back into the land of real food. Thank you!


Sounds wonderful, is this more of a cornbread or crispy polenta type of dish? And how do you find whole-grain cornmeal, I’ve checked the back of many brands and it always seems like the germ is removed. Is masa harina whole grain?


Hi Heidi, Am making this for friends tomorrow night with sauteed cabbage and black bean soup to start. Thanks for another great one!
In answer to NancyD: I always add a bit of sugar to help with the caramelizing process, maybe a Tbsp or so & never go past medium heat. It takes at least 20 min to really get them perfect, so be patient. A copper pan helps a lot because the heat distribution is so even.


Mmmm looks delish. Great way to finish off that bag of cornmeal that’s been sitting under my sink!


i can’t take it anymore…..i keep coming back, over and over, just to look at the picture!
this is definitely on my dinner menu this evening!


What a new and unique recipe. I read more than my share of food blogs and am refreshed and renewed when I come across a recipe that I have never seen before. thanks!!


Bob’s Red Mill makes course, medium, and fine grind cornmeal that is whole grain. Here’s what they write on the package:
“We leave the corn germ in! That’s why our 100% Stone Ground Whole Grain Cornmeal is tastier and more nutritious! (Because corn germ is at such a premium for unsaturated cooking oils and margarines, most other makers of corn products remove it.)”
Usually Whole Foods carries Bob’s Red Mill products — look for them in the making flour section. If you still have no luck, you can order from Bob’s Red Mill online:
Good luck!


Looks awesome! Does it have the same consistency without the cheese? thanks!

Tabitha (From Single to Married)

Looks awesome! Does it have the same consistency without the cheese? thanks!


Love your gluten-free recipes! This cornmeal crunch topped with goat cheese sounds pretty darn good. I’ll have to try that one. Sounds like it might make for good stuffing chunks for Thanksgiving turkey as well. Hmmmm?
Lovely photos!


This does look & sounds really delicious! I’ve been craving soup lately & this bread would be a perfect accompaniment. Bookmarking right away!
I too am wondering about whole grain cornmeal…sorry if it’s a silly question. I’ve never noticed it in any of the stores I frequent…is it hard to find or am I overlooking it? Thanks for a great recipe!


I’m not an onion fan but this looks delish!

Kara Davies

Sounds so good! Can’t wait to try it!


My mouth is watering already…. yum!


This reminds me of a recipe I tried the other day that used cornmeal as the base of a deep dish pizza. It was such a nice change, extremely filling and the crispy sides are yum! Here’s the link to the one I made, although I put roasted pumpkin, mushrooms, marinated capsicum and chorizo on top.


Thank you so much Heidi! I have just started eating gluten-free and have been craving bread. I think this will be perfect to satisfy that. I will be making this tomorrow morning!

Isabel Dickinson

Thank you so much Heidi! I have just started eating gluten-free and have been craving bread. I think this will be perfect to satisfy that. I will be making this tomorrow morning!

Isabel Dickinson

Yummy… I am making tonight kind of winter like here in MN and I have everything in the pantry!
Thanks again!


This looks great!! I would and will eat it for breakfast on the go. (a slab wrapped in some wax paper anyone?) Heidi, you are so inspiring for your seemingly inpromptu recipes.

Nancy, foget what this recipe says about caramelinzing onions. It should never be done over high heat, as the onions will get bitter, even if they do not burn. Always caramelize them onver med-low heat. To do them right so that the develop a rich brown color and nutty flavor, takes time. If they begin to get to soft, turn up the heat a bit.
HS: I used to do my onions over lower heat, but I started getting impatient – some nights I just didn’t want to wait. My experience has been that as long as I stir/scrape regularly (i.e. don’t let the onions touching the pan burn) the onions turn out nutty and brown and not at all bitter every time. But really, do it whatever way you like…

A Tip for Nancy

Just made it. Used shredded mozzarella in the “batter” and topped with parm because that’s what I had on hand. So delicious and satisfying on a rainy November afternoon. All you gluten-free folks ought to make this ASAP. Thanks, Heidi.


It sounds like it would be perfect with goat cheese…and good with chili!

Fit Bottomed Girls

I’m not usually the biggest fan of cornmeal but this looks delicious! Thanks, Heidi! 🙂


Thanks Heidi for giving me a new favorite carb food that will be great with any meal of the day. I didn’t know about whole grain cornmeal. Is it identifiable by the labeling, and where can I find it? Thanks!


I am lactose intolerant and and been living without cheesy polenta no more! I just last week found some artisan goat and sheepsmilk cheese that is Fabuloso on it’s own and this recipe reminded me– I can make polenta now!! Yippee!
Last week I made the Shredded Brussel sprouts w/ tofu and it was absolutely delicious. I marinated my own tofu. Heidi! Thanks for sharing!!!!


I always love a good gluten free recipe!! Especially one using cornmeal!


Looks absolutely delicious.
We all love polenta.
For the leftovers, I brown squares in a
little olive oil and if desired butter.
Serve with eggs and breakfast syrup.


The words “onion” and “cheese” in this recipe invoke in me a sudden craving for French Onion Soup…yumm…


Try keeping the heat lower than you usually do and add water if things start to get dry.


I’m about to go gluten free for the first time and this recipe makes me so happy! This is the kind of carb-y comfort food thing I feel like I’m giving up.
I have a feeling that I’ll master this technique very quickly! Thank you!!


I make a recipe similar to this, but I use goat cheese instead. It adds a bit of “saltiness” to the dish, so you can use less of the real stuff. The goat cheese is deeeelicious!

Captain Quinoa

Can I use parmesan from a can (I know, heresy, but I have it in my pantry!).
I’ve had a tough time finding fresh parmesan that isn’t made with animal rennet. Has anyone here had better luck?


I’m salivating just reading the recipe:]


Oh, this looks terrific! I can’t wait to try it. Thanks so much for another gluten free recipe.


What an interesting recipe…thank you for sharing it! It looks like a perfect, cozy fall recipe.


this looks fantastic – i’ve been trying to think of something yummy to make with the bag of cornmeal i have in the pantry. thanks for sharing!


It looks really delicious!


This is a wonderful recipe. I have so enjoyed receiving emails from 101. Thank you for all the great food I have been serving my family. This Cornmeal Crunch has got to be my very favorite. I am making it for Thannksgiving Dinner.

Cindy Adams

Sounds absolutely delicious! But wait, any ideas on making this dish vegan?


This looks divine, and the leftovers would most likely make for the start of the stuffing for the seitan roast I’m planning…


well, with the apple cake and this, i’ll have a complete lunch today! 😉
this looks astoundingly good! i am totally going to make this. right now.


I love the idea of this as a complement to soup/stew, or alone as a sandwichy snack. It sounds so good!


Perfect Timing! I made a giant crockpot of chili this morning and I have a feeling this will compliment it nicely. Can’t wait for dinner!


This looks delicious! I think I’ll be making it tonight.


Looks great! I have a tendency to burn onions when I try to caramelize them. Any tips?


I’m not sure why, but I never thought of looking for/buying whole grain cornmeal. I will definitely find some now.
This recipe looks very good and would compliment so many different things.


Looks great!! Gluten-free, hooray!! 😀


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