I can resist impulse buys everywhere but the grocery.

I walk in with a list and a mission, but then I see the new granola mixes and ice cream flavors and coffee creamers, and I get that tingly kid-in-the-candy-store feeling. Usually I get my fix for less than $5, and I get to try something new. But I hate it when I buy something that just sits around, like the roll of cheddar-jalapeño polenta I picked up a few months ago and never gave another thought until I was rearranging the cabinets, and it came rolling out, like a tampon from a spilled purse. Useful but previously forgotten.

Then I remembered this recipe for Instant Tamale Pie.

You get the pie’s first layer by overlapping rounds of packaged polenta (which comes in a roll, so you can slice it like you would sausage patties) in a cast-iron skillet or baking dish. Then you empty a can of pintos into a bowl, mash them, and add corn, salsa, cumin and oregano, and spoon the mixture over the polenta. Sprinkle a little cilantro and cheese on top, and it’s ready for the oven.

I should have broken out that roll of polenta sooner, because this pie is delicious, filling and cheap. Way cheap. From now on, I’ll be customizing it according to what needs to be used up in my fridge or pantry (i.e. black beans, mushrooms, onions, black olives, chiles, fire-roasted tomatoes, peppers). Oh, and if you need a substitute for the packaged polenta, you can always make a cornmeal crust (for the top, bottom or both) or use some crushed corn chips and adjust your baking time to practically non-existent. Yes, it’ll be like eating nachos with a fork, but you’ve got to do your own thing.

I’m not here to judge. I’m here to buy more granola.

Instant Tamale Pie

Adapted from “Moosewood Restaurant New Classics”

Serves 4

  • 1 15-ounce can pinto beans with liquid
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces prepared polenta (preferably the cheddar-jalapeño variety)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or an 11-inch baking dish. Set aside.
  2. Empty the beans into a large bowl, and mash with a potato masher or fork. Add corn, salsa, cumin, oregano and salt. Mix thoroughly, and set aside.
  3. Slice the polenta roll into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (about the thickness of sausage patties). Arrange the rounds in the skillet, slightly overlapping. Spoon the bean mixture over the polenta, and sprinkle on the cilantro and cheese.
  4. Cover and bake for 15 minutes, and then uncover and bake for 15 minutes more, until the beans are bubbling and hot. For a crisp topping, place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.