Fried polenta stacks are an eye-catching entree for the holiday table or a dinner party. There’s something about stacked food that just screams fancy.
Using prepared polenta from a tube, the stacks are layered with barbecued delicata squash and cashew cream. Vegan & gluten-free.
Turn that tube of store-bought polenta into a dazzling appetizer or vegan entree.
Fried polenta stacks are layered with delicata squash, which has been glazed with barbecue sauce.
Then they’re finished with dollops of savory cashew cream, crunchy pepitas, and a sprig of rosemary for garnish.
Each bite is:
This polenta recipe would make an eye-catching centerpiece dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or your holiday dinner party.
One of the many beauties of being vegan is that the Thanksgiving menu doesn’t have to be same-y.
You’re no longer burdened with the mantra, “But this is the way we’ve always done it.”
The main course can change every year.
The main requirement for the Thanksgiving main course is that it screams autumn and abundance.
Oh, and it should be pretty enough that it is worthy of that 6 o’clock position on the plate.
Without a doubt, this fried polenta recipe meets that requirement many times over.
Here are the ingredients you will need for this fried polenta recipe.
Raw cashews: Raw cashews are the base of the cream.
I usually choose raw cashew pieces, because they are less expensive than whole & work just as well.
White miso paste: White miso paste adds salt, richness, and umami to the cashew cream.
Look for it in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. It’s often near the tofu.
Garlic: A clove of garlic adds bite to the cashew cream. Go for a small clove, so that it doesn’t overwhelm.
Nutritional yeast flakes: Nutritional yeast flakes add slight cheesiness and umami.
(Learn more about it in this post explaining nutritional yeast.)
I usually buy mine at Trader Joe’s. You can also find it in bulk bins at natural grocery stores, in bags or canisters near the alternative flours, or online.
Delicata squash: Look for a squash that is firm and heavy. Avoid any that are blemished, soft, or bruised.
Oil: I use avocado oil. But any neutral-flavored, high-heat oil will work.
Barbecue sauce: You can make an easy no-cook barbecue sauce. Or use any store-bought barbecue sauce that you enjoy for this recipe.
Be sure to read the ingredient label, as some include honey, non-vegan Worcestershire sauce, or other fishy ingredients.
Tubed polenta: Look for tubed polenta in the center aisles of your grocery store. It’s often near the other Italian foods like pasta, shelf stable gnocchi, and spaghetti sauce.
I buy mine at Trader Joe’s. You can also find it online.
It is a shelf stable item that you can store in the pantry until you’re ready to open it. Once opened, it must be stored in the refrigerator.
Pepitas: Also known as shelled pumpkin seeds, pepitas are a crunchy garnish to this dish.
Rosemary: Sprigs of rosemary are an optional garnish.
Step by step instructions
Here’s how to make the recipe at a glance. For complete ingredient amounts & instructions, keep scrolling to the recipe card below.
Make the cashew cream.
In a high-speed blender, combine the following:
- Raw cashews
- Nutritional yeast flakes
- White miso paste
Blend until totally creamy.
Put the cashew cream into a covered container & refrigerate.
It will continue to thicken in the refrigerator.
(Doing prep for the holidays? The cashew cream can be made 3 or 4 days ahead of time, if necessary.)
Cut delicata squash into thin rounds. Then use your fingers to remove seeds.
Place delicata squash rounds on a parchment paper covered baking sheet.
Toss with oil & a pinch of salt.
Roast at 420 degrees for 12 minutes.
Remove from oven, flip squash slices, and then brush with barbecue sauce.
Roast 8 more minutes.
While the squash is roasting, remove polenta from its plastic tube.
Then blot it dry on a clean kitchen towel.
Cut the polenta into ½ inch rounds.
Shallow fry in oil for about 3 minutes on each side, until crispy on the outside & warmed throughout.
Once fried, move polenta rounds to a plate. (If you want to line it with paper towels, be aware that the polenta may stick.)
Sprinkle with salt.
Make polenta stacks by layering:
- One fried polenta round
- One or two circles of barbecue-glazed delicata squash
- A generous dollop of cashew cream
- Another polenta circle
- More squash
- Another dollop of cashew cream
Finish with a sprig of fresh rosemary in the center & a smattering of pepitas.
Continue until all of the stacks are done. Serve right away.
Tips for success
Follow these tips for success in making fried polenta stacks.
Make sure the oil is hot enough
Before frying, drop a small piece of polenta into the oil first.
If bubbles immediately form around it, it’s ready.
If not, the polenta will become oil-logged, stick to the skillet, and won’t fry as nicely.
Don’t have a high-speed blender?
If you only have a standard blender, you can still make cashew cream.
You’ll just need to use ONE of the following workarounds:
- Grind dry raw cashews in a clean coffee grinder until they become the texture of flour. Then move it to the blender with the remaining cashew cream ingredients. This is my favorite method.
- Soak raw cashews in water for several hours until softened. Then drain & add to blender.
- Boil raw cashews for about 15 minutes. Then drain & add to blender.
Re-purpose leftover cashew cream
You will likely have more cashew cream than you need for this recipe.
However, making a smaller amount is tricky, because the ingredients may fall below the blender blade.
Or add it to a soup for creaminess.
It goes especially well in any of the following:
Make it your own
Vary the ingredients or cooking methods to make this dish your own.
Make thicker cream
For thicker cashew cream, add slightly more cashews or slightly less water.
Vary the polenta cooking method
Instead of frying the polenta, grill in a grill basket. Lightly oil the polenta rounds so that they don’t stick.
Or air fry the polenta rounds. Lightly coat them in oil, and air fry at 400 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes (or until browned), stopping once to flip.
Vary the squash
Replace delicata squash with slices of any other winter squash like butternut or acorn.
You may have to cut it down to the right size.
Make your own barbecue sauce
Instead of using store-bought BBQ sauce, make your own easy barbecue sauce.
Roast your own squash seeds
Instead of using store-bought pepitas for garnish & crunch, roast or air fry the delicata squash seeds.
It’s a great way to use the whole vegetable.
Storage & reheating instructions
Store leftover stacks in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They will keep for 3 or 4 days.
Reheat in the microwave until fully warmed.
Fried polenta stacks with squash & cashew cream
For cashew cream
- 1 cup raw cashew pieces
- ½ cup water + additional for soaking if needed
- 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
- ½ teaspoon white miso paste
- 1 small garlic clove
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For BBQ delicata squash
- 1 medium-sized delicata squash about 11 ounces
- ½ teaspoon avocado oil or your preferred oil
- Generous ½ cup vegan barbecue sauce
For polenta stacks
- 18 ounces prepared polenta in tube
- Avocado oil or other high heat oil, for frying
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ cup pepitas roasted & salted
- 4 small rosemary sprigs optional
To make cashew cream
- In a high-speed blender, combine raw cashews, water, nutritional yeast flakes, white miso paste, garlic, and salt. Blend until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides as needed. (Don't have a high-speed blender? See recipe notes for workarounds.)
- Refrigerate the cashew cream until you're ready to assemble the polenta stacks. It will continue to thicken in the refrigerator.(If you're doing holiday prep, the cashew cream can be made about 3 days in advance.)
To make BBQ delicata squash
- Preheat oven to 420 degrees. Line one large baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
- Use a chef's knife to cut the delicata squash into roughly ¼ inch thick rounds.Then use your fingers to remove the seeds from the center of the rounds.
- Lay the delicata squash rounds onto the baking sheet. Drizzle with ½ teaspoon of oil & toss until evenly combined. Spread the slices evenly across the sheet. Make sure they don’t touch and aren’t overcrowded.
- Roast the delicata squash for 12 minutes.
- Remove the squash from oven and flip the squash slices with a spatula. Then brush a generous amount of barbecue sauce onto each slice. Roast for another 8 minutes until fully browned and done. Remove from oven and set aside.
To make the polenta stacks
- While the squash is roasting, remove polenta from its plastic casing. Blot it dry on a clean kitchen towel.Cut it into roughly ½ inch circles.
- Bring a large non-stick skillet to a medium-high heat with a shallow layer of avocado oil across the bottom. Put a small bit of polenta into the oil to check if the oil is ready. If bubbles immediately surround the polenta, it is ready.(If the oil isn't hot enough, the polenta will stick to the pan & won't fry as nicely.)
- Put several polenta circles into the oil. (Be careful not to overcrowd the skillet and cook in batches if necessary.) Shallow fry each side for about 3 minutes, until crispy. Once fried, move the polenta circles onto a separate plate, and sprinkle with salt. (You can layer the plate with paper towels first, but be aware that the polenta may stick.)Continue until all of the polenta circles have fried. (Add more oil to the skillet, if needed.)
- Now it's time to make each stack. First, lay one polenta circle on a plate. Top with one or two circles of barbecue sauce-glazed delicata squash. Then top with a generous dollop of cashew cream. Top with another polenta circle, one or two circles of barbecue sauce-glazed butternut squash, and finish with another dollop of cashew cream. Garnish each stack with a sprinkling of pepitas and a small sprig of fresh rosemary (if using).Continue until all of the stacks are completed. Serve right away.
- Grind dry raw cashews in a clean coffee grinder until they have the texture of flour. Then add to the blender with the remaining cashew cream ingredients.
- Soak raw cashews in water for four hours. Then drain and add to blender.
- Boil raw cashews in water for about 15 minutes. Then drain and add to blender.
Content, photos, and recipe updated November 13, 2022. Originally posted November 7, 2016.