This mouthwatering polenta beef casserole from Slavonia is packed with hidden health benefits to endure those long winter months yet light enough to enjoy all summer too!
This comfort meal is made with ground beef, cornmeal, savoy cabbage, carrots, and more!
If you’re turning up your nose at cabbage or polenta, humor me please and make this casserole once.
It might not turn you into a cabbage or polenta lover, but you will love this casserole. I guarantee it!
📋Why This Recipe Works
- For starters, who doesn't like casseroles, amirite?
- It's the ultimate fall comfort food you can also enjoy all summer long.
- Your picky eaters will get their vegetable intake because they won't know they're hidden in this casserole.
- This casserole with polenta and beef is easy to make ahead, healthy, and it feeds a crowd!
- It's nourishing.
- It's lower in carbs than traditional pasta or rice casseroles.
- Polenta is gluten-free and an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and protein.
- Polenta is low in fat, rich in Vitamin A and C, and high in beta-carotene.
- Cabbage provides fiber, vitamins A, C, K, and B6 plus calcium, magnesium, and iron, to name a few.
- With all those health benefits, what’s not to love?
This sneaky Slavonian polenta casserole with beef will have you wonder: what in the heck is a Slavonian casserole, and why is it sneaky?
Slavonia is a region in Croatia (Europe) from where this recipe is originated. Hence, I’m bringing you a taste of my homeland.
But you’re from Bosnia, I hear you say. True, I wasn't born in Croatia, but both countries belonged to Yugoslavia long before I was born.
For a larger part of my life, and before they separated, that was my home. I still feel equally connected to them all.
Now to the second question: why is it sneaky? You’ll love this…wait for it…there is a whole head of savoy cabbage hiding in this casserole!
Besides, the flavor combination in this polenta beef casserole is fantastic!
🛒Ingredients and Notes
For the polenta layer:
For the meat sauce:
For the béchamel sauce:
Centuries ago, polenta was thought peasant food because it was plentiful and inexpensive and a good winter diet staple when other food was limited.
🔪Step by Step Instructions
Make the polenta and cabbage layer - prep all the vegetables. Cook the shredded savoy cabbage in water; combine cornmeal with water. Add the wet cornmeal to the pan with cabbage; cook until the mixture thickens.
Make the meat sauce - sauté the onions, carrots, and celery. Add the ground beef and seasonings and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Mix in the wine and tomatoes; cook a bit longer.
Make the béchamel sauce - Add the flour to melted butter and cook, constantly stirring, until the paste cooks and bubbles. Whisk in milk and continue to stir until sauce thickens — season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Assemble - Pour polenta into a greased casserole dish. Add the layer of meat sauce and finish with béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley; bake.
Can I make the béchamel sauce gluten-free?
Why yes, yes, you can! Use GF flour instead of all-purpose flour or cornstarch (for Americans, cornflour for the rest of the world) to make the béchamel sauce.
If using cornstarch for gluten-free casserole version:
- Once the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat.
- Whisk in 1 tablespoon cornstarch (always use half of what the recipe calls for all-purpose flour).
- Add half of the milk and whisk vigorously until you have a thickish consistency.
- Put the pan back over the heat. Add the remaining milk bit by bit, stirring all the time.
- Cook until the sauce thickens. Season with spices.
Wondering what the difference is between cornstarch, cornmeal, corn flour, and polenta? It's all laid out for you in this corn pie recipe post.
Polenta cooks fast on the stovetop, in a slow cooker, instant pot, or rice cooker, it's economical and a great binder in casseroles, soups, scrambles, etc.
💗More Great Recipes to Try
- Chilean Corn Shepherd's Pie
- Paraguayan Cheese and Onion Cornbread
- Traditional Bosnian Polenta
- Italian Apple and Fig Polenta Torta
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Slavonian Polenta Beef Casserole
- Baking dish
- 3 cups water divided
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 small head savoy cabbage, thinly shredded about 1 lbs
For meat sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion diced
- 1 carrot coarsely grated
- 1 celery stalk chopped
- 1 lb. ground beef
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon fresh or dried parsley plus more for garnish
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon fresh or dried basil
- 1 pinch allspice optional
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 8 oz. crushed tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the béchamel sauce:
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ cup milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dash of nutmeg
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- In a large saucepan bring 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add 1 small head of shredded savoy cabbage and simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté 1 diced onion, 1 grated carrot, and 1 chopped celery stalk until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1 pound ground beef and seasonings (¼ teaspoon nutmeg, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon basil, and a pinch of allspice) and cook until meat is no longer pink. Mix in ½ cup dry red wine and 8oz. crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
- In a small bowl, combine 1 cup cornmeal with 1 cup water until all cornmeal is wet (prevents it from clumping up). Add the wet cornmeal to the pan with cabbage (do not drain the cabbage) and swiftly whisk it to combine. Immediately lower the heat and cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles, about two minutes. Don’t let it brown. Add 1 ¼ cups milk and continue to stir until sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste and a dash of nutmeg.
- Pour polenta (cooked cornmeal) into a greased casserole dish. Add the layer of meat sauce and finish with béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with ½ cup of parmesan cheese and some chopped fresh parsley.
- Bake on 375 degrees Fahrenheit preheated oven for 20 minutes. Let cool before serving. Serving suggestion: serve with a cold glass of your favorite beer.
- See the post for how to make the béchamel sauce gluten free.
- You can easily reheat the casserole in the microwave.
- This casserole is also freezable!
NOTE: This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for photos and content.