Italian Parmesan Polenta with Cranberry Beans

Italian-style Parmesan polenta with Cranberry beans (also borlotti beans), spiced tomato sauce and onions. The perfect Mediterranean dinner (vegetarian), ready in 30 minutes.

Italian Parmesan polenta with cranberry beans

Today we are making a favorite main meal in my household -vegetarian Parmesan Polenta with cranberry beans and tomato sauce. One quick and delicious meal for those busy workdays.

FUN FACTS: Polenta has its roots in the cuisine of Northern Italy, particularly in regions where corn (maize) was a staple crop. The cultivation of corn in Italy is believed to have been introduced from the Americas in the late 15th century. However, it wasn’t until the 16th century that corn became widely cultivated and consumed in Italy.

Initially, polenta was a food of peasants and rural communities due to the affordability and accessibility of corn. It provided a filling and nutritious staple in their diets. Over time, polenta gained popularity beyond rural areas and became a beloved dish throughout Italy and beyond.

Ingredients and Substitutions

  1. Finely grind cornmeal – usually sold for Polenta meals in Europe
  2. Parmesan cheese – freshly grated tastes and cooks best
  3. Water – for the polenta. You can use milk as well if you’d prefer
  4. Salt and sugar – just a pinch for polenta
  5. Cranberry beans (borlotti beans) – canned or cooked at home in advance. Substitute with pinto beans if needed
  6. Tomato sauce – homemade or I use an Italian sauce from the near-by Italian store
  7. Spices – oregano, nutmeg, black pepper

How to make Polenta with Cranberry beans?

1st: Prepare sauce: Sauté onions in olive oil on low heat. Add drained beans, tomato sauce and spices. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside.

2nd: Prepare polenta: Bring water to a boil, add cornmeal and cook on the stove top for 1-3 minutes (until polenta starts to thicken) while constantly stirring. Remove from stove top and add shredded parmesan and olive oil. Stir until fully incorporated and thick. Serve.

What are Cranberry Beans?

Cranberry beans, also known as borlotti beans, are medium-sized beans with a mottled red and beige skin resembling cranberries, hence their name. They have a creamy texture when cooked and a mild, nutty flavor. Commonly used in Italian and Mediterranean cuisines, cranberry beans are versatile and can be used in soups, salads, stews, and pasta dishes. They are nutritious, providing protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals. If you are a fan of cranberry beans check out my recipe for Italian Borlotti beans soup (so good!).

What is Polenta?

Polenta is a traditional Italian dish made from coarsely ground yellow cornmeal, boiled into a thick, creamy porridge-like consistency. It has a slightly sweet and earthy flavor with a smooth, comforting texture.

Italian Parmesan polenta with cranberry beans
Italian Parmesan polenta with cranberry beans

Italian Parmesan Polenta with Cranberry Beans

Easy Italian-style polenta with parmesan, cranberry beans and tomato sauce. Quick dinner recipe, ready in 30 minutes time.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine European, Italian
Servings 6 people


For Polenta

  • 250 g (9 oz) fine cornmeal, for polenta meals
  • 1 liter (34oz) lukewarm water
  • 50 g (1/2 cup) parmesan, finely shredded
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, or more as needed
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar

For Sauce with Beans

  • 1 yellow onion, finely minced
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil, or more as needed
  • 1 jar (24oz/ 400g) tomato sauce, for pasta
  • 1 can (15oz/240g) cranberry beans, drained
  • 1 tbsp. oregano, dried
  • 1/3 tsp. nutmeg
  • salt and black pepper to taste



  • Saute finely chopped onion in olive oil on low heat. Add tomato sauce from jar, drained cranberry beans from can and spices (nutmeg and oregano).
  • Stir well to combine. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.


  • Bring water to a boil. Then, add cornmeal and stir without stopping for 1-3 minutes on the stove top. Remove from heat when polenta starts to thicken.
  • Add olive oil, sugar and shredded parmesan cheese while still constantly stirring. Stir until polenta thickens. Serve with tomato sauce while still hot.


Use your favorite tomato pasta sauce, milk instead of water for polenta as needed. 
Keyword 30 minute dinner, Mediterranean diet, vegetarian
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