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Recipe Jillena Hernández

Polenta, Cannellini Beans and Spinach Stack

Impress your dinner guests by serving them this restaurant-quality, elegant, delicious AND nutritious dish!  Our former board member, Jillena Hernandez, is a talented cook with an eye for beautiful plating.  This dish encompasses beautiful summer spinach, protein rich cannellini beans and delicious herbed polenta. It’s a perfect dish to wow your dinner companions on hot summer nights!

Note: Start one step the day before by picking through and soaking the cannellini beans in 4 cups of water. You can leave these in a bowl out on the counter.

Yield: Serves 4

Polenta, cannellini beans and spinach stack 

Cannellini Beans Ingredients:

  • 1 c dry cannellini beans
  • 3 twigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 7 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tbls red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tbls sea salt

Berbed Polenta Ingredients:

  • 1 c dry polenta, fine
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (I used truffle salt, it was amazing)
  • 1 twig fresh rosemary, de-stemmed and minced
  • 2 tbls fresh oregano, minced (I use the herbs from my garden, but in a pinch, used dried)
  • 2 tbls fresh thyme, minced

Rustic Spinach Ingredients:

  • 4 cups fresh rustic spinach, stems removed, chopped large (I found this at the co-op, it was almost like kale.  Any spinach or kale will be fabulous here.)
  • 1/2 c dry sherry
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • sea salt to taste

Garnish Ingredients:

  • 1 c pasta sauce of your choice
  • parmesan cheese to taste for garnish


Start the night before by soaking the beans in water for the night. This will ensure that the beans cook down in a reasonable amount of time. When I don’t soak the beans they don’t get as soft as I want them even after hours of cooking. The beans can be cooked ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days if left in their cooking juices.

When ready to cook, drain the beans. Combine the beans in a large pot with 3 cups of fresh water, the rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, red pepper flakes and salt. Cook on high until the water boils then reduce to a strong simmer for an hour or until the beans are soft.

To cook the polenta there are a few new things you might like to know that will change the texture and taste considerably for the better, especially if you are vegan.  I have incorporated a number of tips from an amazing tutorial by Alice Waters in her book The Art of Simple Food on how to cook polenta.  Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot.  Slowly stir in the dry polenta and continue to stir for 2-3 minutes.  This will help keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for a full hour.  Stir occasionally and watch the water level, as all polenta is cut to different sizes and may require more or less water.

At the end of the hour, turn off the heat and add the salt, rosemary, oregano and thyme.  Quickly pour it into a baking dish in order to set the polenta.  If you would like a thinner base for this dish distribute the polenta into two baking dishes.  One standard 10″ pyrex dish made a 1/2 inch layer of polenta.  Put the baking dish in the refrigerator for approximately 20-30 minutes, until the polenta is completely firm.  Time may vary based on the thickness.  Use a large glass or small bowl to cut out the base layers for final assembly.  You can make the round quite big if this will be your main dish.

To make the spinach, heat the garlic and sherry in a large saute pan until the garlic starts to soften.  Add more sherry if you burn it off too quickly.  Add the spinach and cook until wilted half way.  Remove from hot pan onto a plate until ready to serve.

To assemble, drain the beans and stack carefully or haphazardly in the following order: polenta, beans, and spinach.  Top with slices of a good parmesan cheese.  I served the sauce on the side because it plated up nicer that way, but feel free to go to town with layering it under the polenta or drizzled on top!

Notes on the polenta:  When Ms. Waters told me, via her tutorial of course, that I should cook the polenta for a full hour, I didn’t hesitate because she is the master but it was interesting to know why.  As with most of you, I used to cook the polenta until it was soft enough to eat.  It was always grainy and sometimes tasted watery.  As much as I love rich food, I don’t add a variety of dairy products to the polenta which sometimes makes for a sad diet tasting meal.  When you cook the polenta for an hour, it breaks down the grain completely and becomes more of a porridge.  It becomes creamy all on its own.  It was an “A-Ha” and a “YES!” moment for me when I tasted the final product.

Notes on the beans:  I cook a pot of beans and reserve the cooking liquid to store leftovers. I use the leftover beans to toss in salads, as a layer in lasagna or inside a veggie burrito.


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