Wondering what to do on New Year’s Eve? Having friends over on New Year’s Day but haven’t figured out what to offer them yet? How about a polenta party? If you cook your polenta in a slow cooker, offer a selection of toppings and let your guests help themselves, you’ll be able to enjoy the fete as much as they do.

Polenta traditionally is cooked in a copper pot

The single best use I’ve found for my slow cooker is creamy polenta. I’ve started the cooking at night when I’ve been serving breakfast to a crowd the next morning and I’ve started it in the morning when guests were coming for dinner. The technique is absolutely perfect if you’re hosting an open house, with guests coming and going at various times. Polenta holds up deliciously in a slow-cooker for hours. If you have two slow-cookers–you can always borrow one–you can offer a hearty topping, such as short ribs, with little fuss.

To encourage things to go smoothly, set your slow-cooker with the polenta in one area, with dishes–I prefer soup plates–stacked alongside. Then have a second and possibly a third station for toppings, with silverware alongside. If the meal is breakfast, have one area for savory toppings and another for sweet. If the meal is dinner, group vegetarian selections and selections with meat separately.

Here’s the original column with the Seasonal Pantry archives.

Polenta in a Crock Pot or Slow-Cooker

Creamy polenta with Gorgonzola and walnuts, from Polenta (Broadway Books, 1997, Michele Anna Jordan)

Savory Polenta Toppings Olio Nuovo is simple and delicious but there are more than a dozen options listed here, from simple olive oil to sauteed wild mushrooms, steamed clams, creamed salt cod and eggs poached in marinara sauce

Sweet Polenta Toppings Butter and maple syrup or warm honey is a classic topping but polenta is equally good with applesauce and cinnamon, winter fruit compote and chutney

Braised Short Ribs This recipe includes pumpkin, farro and chard. To serve with polenta, omit the farro; the pumpkin and chard are optional