Sliders are so much fun, but if you can’t eat gluten, it can be frustrating to see them on the menu. Today I’m giving you a gluten-free slider that everyone will love – and you won’t even miss the buns! Have fun with these Meatball Parmesan Sliders with Polenta and Marinara Sauce!
The Artist loves Italian meatballs and I thought it would be fun to take that concept a little further. Sliders are always popular – now, how to make them gluten-free? Ah, polenta disks would be a great substitution for the traditional hamburger bun. And once we had the mini burgers on the polenta, why not cover them with a delicious marinara sauce and some melted cheese? Total winner!
If you can find mini gluten-free buns, or want to make your own, that is terrific, but if not, give this fun spin on the ordinary slider a try. Serve them open-faced and eat them with a fork and knife. Your little ones could certainly eat with them with their fingers if Mom cuts them up first. Who doesn’t love food you can eat with your hands?!
This sauce is my basic marinara with wine added so it is fantastic served over pasta or used in lasagna. If you have children who don’t like the taste of wine in their foods, just replace the wine with water. This recipe makes a lot of sauce because I figured if you are going to make it, you might as well get several meals out of your efforts.
I always make a big pot of sauce, cool it and then package it in resealable plastic bags. Lay them on a baking sheet in the freezer and once they are solid, they stack perfectly in the freezer for homemade weeknight meals. Just place a frozen bag in the refrigerator in the morning and it will be ready to reheat when you get home to make dinner!
It has been a long time since I made anything other than creamy polenta and I’d almost forgotten how much I love to make the firm version and then fry it for a crispy texture. Oh my, it is so good! I wound up with extra after I made all the sliders and am looking forward to figuring out how to enjoy them. In the summer it would be SO good with slices of tomato fresh from the garden layered between circles of the polenta. You could use any fresh vegetables for a delicious and healthy treat.
Don’t be afraid to fry the polenta disks. They have plenty of butter in them so there’s no need to add any more fat or oils, and you are not adding any calories, just a lovely crispiness and crunch. I used my nonstick griddle to cook the polenta and it worked like a champ. If you don’t have a griddle, you can use a large skillet and cook the polenta circles in batches.
I also love that both the sauce and the polenta can be made ahead – you can even season and form the meatballs ahead too. Keep everything tightly covered in separate containers in the refrigerator. Then when you are ready to serve, all you have to do is reheat the polenta and sauce, cook the meatballs, assemble the sliders, and melt the cheese over the top. It sounds like a lot, but it goes really quickly. You can keep these warm in a low oven for about 30 minutes before the meatballs begin to dry out.
The Artist and I really loved these Meatball Parmesan Sliders – they are good enough to serve for a party or for a weeknight meal if you’ve done most of the prep work ahead.
How to make Meatball Parmesan Sliders with Marinara Sauce:
- Cook polenta in a large saucepan, whisking constantly until thick and pulling away from the sides of the pan; season with herbs, salt, and pepper
- Pour polenta onto a parchment-lined and oiled baking sheet and let cool and become firm; cut out circles
- Mix the meats and seasonings and roll into balls; cook until browned on both sides and cooked through; fry polenta circles
- Make the marinara sauce
- Assemble sliders by layering a polenta circle, a meatball, slice of cheese, and broil until cheese is melted
- Sprinkle with chopped fresh basil and serve
If you choose to freeze the extra marinara sauce, I like to portion it into resealable containers in advance. If you are using plastic bags, fill them and seal, then lay them flat on a baking sheet. Slip the baking sheet into the freezer and make sure it is flat. The filled bags will be easy to stack when they are frozen solid.
What are shallots and how do I prepare them?
If you are not used to working with shallots, they taste like a cross between onion and garlic with a subtler flavor than either one and are a favorite in many cuisines. Many shallots grow with two or more lobes, each one wrapped with a papery covering that needs to be removed before using. Peel them, use a paring knife to make narrow cuts perpendicular to the root end and then cut across those slices to easily mince them.
One of my favorite ways to boost plain vegetables is to make a shallot butter, melt it, and drizzle over them just before serving. To make the compound butter, mince shallots very finely, add to melted butter and cook over low heat for about 3 to 5 minutes or until they are softened. Use warm.
Key Ingredients for this Recipe
- Chicken or vegetable stock
- Ground polenta
- Thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Ground pork, beef, or turkey, or a combination
- Onion powder and garlic powder
- Marinara sauce, store bought or homemade (recipe below)
- Mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese
Kitchen Tools I Use to Make This Recipe (affiliate links)
Make sure the polenta you use doesn’t have any added wheat flour. Polenta and cornmeal are naturally gluten-free, but some producers use a facility that also processes other gluten products. Always check the label for safety. Bob’s Red Mill brand has guaranteed gluten-free cornmeal that I use to make these polenta disks.
- 1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for oiling the pan
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 large shallot (about 4 oz), finely minced
- 4-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1-1/2 cups coarsely ground polenta
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp white pepper or freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 1/2 lb ground beef or turkey
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp onion powder (not onion salt)
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Marinara sauce (see recipe below)
- 8 to 12 (3-inch) squares of mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese
- Line a baking sheet (with sides) with a sheet of parchment paper and lightly oil the parchment; set aside.
- Cook Polenta: In a large nonstick saucepan, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the shallots. Sauté the shallots, stirring often until they soften and start to color, about 1 minute. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Whisking constantly, gradually add the polenta in a slow stream. If you don’t keep the polenta moving as you add it, you will get lumps.
- Lower the heat to medium-low or until the polenta is still bubbling and spluttering, but not too heavily. Cook, stirring constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes or until the polenta is thickened and pulling away from the sides of the pan. While the polenta is cooking, stir in the thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper. Remove from the heat and add the Parmesan, whisking until everything is evenly distributed. Taste and add more seasonings if needed.
- Pour the polenta into the prepared baking sheet and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Ease the polenta away from the sides of the pan, evening up the edges as needed and smoothing. Set aside to cool completely and firm up.
- Make the Meatballs: In a mixing bowl, combine the meat(s) with the seasonings. Take a small amount and fry it in a skillet; when cooked through taste it to check the flavors. If it needs more seasoning, add them and mix gently to distribute. Divide the meat mixture evenly into small balls about 2 oz each, about the size of a golf ball. Without compressing them too much, flatten the meat into patties and press your thumb in the center of one side to create a depression. This will help the patties cook up flat without the usual bulging. Each one will be about 2-1/2-inch diameter.
- Cook Meatballs: Heat an ovenproof skillet or griddle over medium-high heat and cook the sliders until just cooked to about medium doneness, flipping halfway through to brown both sides, about 150F on an instant read thermometer. Insert the thermometer horizontally through the side of the sliders into the center of the patty. It is OK if the burgers are a little less done that you usually prefer because they will be under the broiler to finish cooking.
- Prepare Polenta Disks: Cut the polenta into circles slightly larger than the sliders (about 3-inch diameter), using a round cookie cutter. Working in batches, place the polenta disks in the same skillet you used for the sliders and cook over medium heat until they are lightly golden brown on both sides. When the polenta disks are crispy on both sides, transfer back to the baking sheet and place in a low oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining polenta disks, adding them to the baking sheet as they are done. Do not stack the disks.
- Preheat the broiler.
- Assemble Sliders: Top each polenta disk with one meatball and pour a little marinara sauce over the top, about 1 to 2 tbsp. Top each with a slice of the cheese. Slip the baking sheet under the broiler and cook until the cheese is melted, leaving the door to the oven ajar so you can watch and pull them out when done. Remove from the oven, transfer to serving plates and sprinkle with the chopped basil. Serve immediately. Pass additional sauce at the table.
- Can be made ahead. Extra sauce will hold in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for about three months.
- Vegetarian Option: You can use leftover polenta for a vegetarian option (if you use vegetable stock). Stack several disks together with a slice of cheese between each one. Bake until heated through and the cheese is softened. Remove from the oven, pour a little of the hot marinara sauce over each stack and sprinkle the tops with chopped fresh basil.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 796Total Fat: 51gSaturated Fat: 20gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 25gCholesterol: 239mgSodium: 1766mgCarbohydrates: 18gFiber: 3gSugar: 3gProtein: 63g
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved lengthwise (discard bitter green core), minced
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 (28 oz) container crushed tomatoes (I like Pomi brand)
- 3/4 cup red wine or water
- 1/2 tsp each salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 6 to 8 fresh basil leaves
- In a deep heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven or the pot you used for the polenta (if big enough), heat oil over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, carefully add onions. Stir to coat evenly with oil.
- Cook, stirring occasionally until onion is softened and translucent, but not browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, dried basil, and oregano. When you can smell the garlic, but before it browns (about 30 seconds), add tomatoes and wine. Add salt, pepper and sugar; stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low or low and let sauce simmer slowly for at least 30 minutes and up to 1-1/2 hours. Add a little water if sauce becomes too thick. If you like a smoother sauce, use an immersion blender to purée. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Near the end of cooking, stack basil leaves on a work surface and slice crosswise into very thin strips. Stir half into the sauce and use rest for garnish. The sauce can be made several days in advance. Store, covered, in the refrigerator and reheat before using.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 59Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 105mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 0g
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This post was first shared in April 2016. The article was updated in 2020.