Mexican beef and polenta bake

Photographer: Adam
Serves 6-8

It is starting to get mighty nippy in Dunedin. Although not quite here yet, winter is certainly around the corner and I am all about hearty, warming food right now. This beef and polenta bake is just what I am craving. The polenta topping is deliciously crunchy while the beef sauce is deep and rich in tomato flavour. The fact that it is dripping in cheese doesn’t hurt either.

You can create one large casserole, or have fun making individual servings in small ramekins. I had these cute little stoneware dishes so I made a serving of spicy, cheesy heaven for each member of the industrial design team. The original recipe calls for red kidney beans, but black beans would work equally well. I went ahead and used both as it stretched the meal a little further and I like the earthy, slightly sweet flavour the black beans contributed.

Serve it up piping hot from the oven with a side of sour cream or some freshly made guacamole (or both).


5 cups water
1 ¼ cups polenta
50g butter
¾ cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Mexican beef sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fresh or 1 tsp dried rosemary, chopped
1 tbsp fresh or 1 tsp dried thyme
800 g top quality beef mince
2 x 400g cans tomatoes
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 x 400g can red kidney (or black) beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp ground chilli
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sugar (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

¾ cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1 tbsp fresh or 1 tsp dried rosemary, chopped


When making polenta it is important to whisk continuously to keep it smooth and creamy. Once cooked the polenta will begin to pull away from the sides of the pot. This is the time to add all your fats, herbs and seasonings before turning out onto a tray to cool.
1. Bring the water to boil in a large pot. Whisk in the polenta handful at a time.
2. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking constantly until the polenta has the consistency of porridge. This will take around 20 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and add the butter, parmesan, rosemary, salt and pepper. Mix to combine.
4. Pour the polenta mix out into a greased shallow tray, spreading to an even thickness of around 2.5cm.
5. Set aside and leave to cool while you prepare the beef sauce.
6. Preheat oven to 175ºC on Bake

Mexican beef sauce
1. Heat olive oil in a large, deep pan and add the onions, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Sauté until onions are soft.
2. Add beef mince and brown, mixing well so it doesn’t clump. Cook for around 20 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, kidney beans, spices, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix through until well combined and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. While the sauce is simmering, use a cookie-cutter to cut cooled polenta into rounds approx 5cm in diameter. You can experiment with other shapes too.

To assemble
1. Pour the beef sauce into a casserole dish and lay the polenta shapes in an overlapping pattern on top.
2. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and fresh rosemary and bake for between 20 and 30 minutes – until the top is golden brown and the meat sauce is bubbling up around the edges of the topping.

Serve hot with sour cream and fresh guacamole.