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Cherry Tomato Pesto Polenta with Fried Halloumi…a delicious bowl of late summer comfort food. This simple creamy pesto polenta is made in under 30 minutes, uses just one skillet and one pot, and is a great way to use up those garden herbs and summer tomatoes. The polenta is creamy, perfectly buttery, and swirled with basil pesto and fresh chives. The blistered cherry tomatoes are pan-roasted until saucy and jammy. And that halloumi cheese is pan-fried until crispy and melty. When spooned over bowls of creamy polenta, it makes for a simple and delicious dinner that’s great for any night of the week.

overhead photo of Cherry Tomato Pesto Polenta with Fried Halloumi

Leave it to me to find a way to serve you all a giant bowl of polenta, tomatoes, and cheese, and call it dinner. This is one hundred percent, my kind of summer meal. It’s easy, it’s creamy, it has pan-roasted cherry tomatoes, so many fresh herbs, and then to finish it all off?

Pan fried halloumi cheese.

It’s not a traditional meal by any means, but it sure is delicious. And I am not going to lie, as I sit here typing away, it’s late on Tuesday night and this bowl of polenta is currently the only thing I want to be making for dinner…because yes, I love a late-night meal.

Fun fact? The reason I started cooking way back when I was twelve or thirteen was to help my dad get dinner on the table before ten o’clock. Mom always did the baking and dad always did dinner, but my dad also worked the typical nine to five, then he’d go to the gym after work. Some nights he wouldn’t get home until eight or so in the evening, so this meant two things. Most nights we have cookies on the table before dinner was even started (not a bad thing) and dinner was a bit of an afterthought and always on the later end. And with five mouths to feed? A little chaotic too.

At some point I decided to pitch in and taught myself how to cook…and I guess you could say the rest is history.

But the ironic thing about this story? I used to hate that we ate dinner so late, but now I prefer eating a later dinner once all my work is done and I can feel relaxed. Funny how things like that happen, huh?

Anyway, just thought I would share a little story. Back to the polenta now.

overhead photo of Cherry Tomatoes in skillet

Making this cherry tomato pesto polenta is easy.

Here is how I do it.  Start out by making a fast batch of quick-cooking polenta. I like to use Bob’s Red Mill quick-cooking polenta. Simply boil water, whisk in the polenta, and allow to cook for a few minutes until it’s thick and creamy. It’s that simple. To that creamy polenta, add a pat of butter and basil pesto. Once the polenta is looking super creamy, cover the pot and let is sit while you prepare the rest of the dish.

The most important ingredient when making polenta – the butter. If there’s one thing my mom taught me about cooking polenta is that if you really want it to taste delicious, add butter!

She’s doesn’t love to cook all that much, but she’s got polenta down to a T. Using butter creates the creamiest bowl of polenta. It’s simple, but it’s roll your eyes back good. And complete comfort.

overhead photo of Pesto Polenta

And onto those cherry tomatoes. I love pan “roasting” sweet cherry tomatoes just until they burst and release their juices. I cook them with plenty of garlic and fresh herbs. For the herbs, I like to use a mix of fresh oregano and thyme, but you can really use any mix of herbs you enjoy most. Rosemary would be really delicious,

Cooking the tomatoes only takes a few minutes. Once they start popping and the bottoms of the tomatoes have a nice char, shake the pan a bit. Then remove from the heat and add a couple of splashes of balsamic vinegar and a handful of fresh basil.

At this point, your kitchen should be smelling amazing. With hints of garlic, balsamic, and whatever other herbs you decide to use. It’s a wonderful, summery, delicious smell!

overhead close up photo of Cherry Tomato Pesto Polenta with Fried Halloumi

And lastly…

That pan-fried Halloumi cheese. I know, know. Halloumi cheese is Greek, polenta is Italian. Yes, I am mixing cuisines. And yes, I know some of you may not be into this. But I’m all about it…IF it’s good…and it’s good!

Halloumi is a salty grilling cheese commonly used in Mediterranean cooking. It’s delicious when pan-fried and I love incorporating it into dishes like vegetarian tacospeanut noodles, saucy curries, and extra summery salads. It adds great flavor and texture. It’s what makes this polenta really stand out and be just a touch better than others.

And honestly, what could be better than pan-fried cheese…not much.

overhead close up photo of Cherry Tomato Pesto Polenta with Fried Halloumi

Now it’s time to serve everything up. You know me, I have to go a little above and beyond, so here’s exactly how I plate this dish.

Spoon the polenta into your favorite bowls…I’m all about making things extra pretty. Swirl a few spoonfuls of pesto over the polenta, then add those blistered tomatoes and finish with melty, crispy halloumi.

Done and done. Simple and perfect.

Oh, and please don’t skip the halloumi. I know some of you might think you don’t really need it, but trust me…you need it. It’s salty fried cheese that’s crispy on the outside and soft and melty inside. It’s just delicious, plus it adds the perfect balance to this creamy bowl of polenta and tomatoes.

So what do you all think? Want to join me for an easy late-night bowl of summer polenta?

overhead photo of Cherry Tomato Pesto Polenta with Fried Halloumi and fork in serving bowl

Looking for other polenta recipes? Here are a few ideas: 

Garlic Parmesan Herb Butter Polenta Fries with Lemon Aioli

Pesto Polenta with Thyme Roasted Mushrooms and Chickpeas

Honey Butter Blackened Scallops with Herby Polenta

Lastly, if you make this Cherry Tomato Pesto Polenta with Fried Halloumi, be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! Above all, I love to hear from you guys and always do my best to respond to each and every comment. And of course, if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram! Looking through the photos of recipes you all have made is my favorite!

Cherry Tomato Pesto Polenta with Fried Halloumi

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories Per Serving: 392 kcal

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.

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  • 1. To make the polenta. In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Slowly whisk in the polenta, stirring until the polenta is soft and thick, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the butter, parmesan, the pesto, and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat off, cover the pot, and let the polenta sit 5 minutes.
    4. Meanwhile, cook the halloumi. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the halloumi and cook until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from skillet.
    3. To the same skillet, add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil. When the oil shimmers, add the tomatoes, garlic, shallot, herbs, and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the tomatoes begin to pop, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the balsamic vinegar and basil.
    4. Divide the polenta between bowls. Spoon the tomatoes over top, then add the Halloumi. Drizzle with additional pesto and top with fresh basil and chives. Enjoy!
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  1. 5 stars
    I love this recipe! Anything with cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar has my vote. I made this last night for dinner. It has wonder flavors going on and felt “light” in all this heat and humidity right now. I couldn’t find the cheese so I skipped that part and added a tad more shredded parm. The only polenta at our local grocery was in the deli section ready made. I reconstituted it with some chicken broth. First time I ever served it. I’ll be making this again!!

    1. Thank you so much Joan!! I am so glad this recipe turned out so well for you! I hope you continue to enjoy my recipes! xTieghan

  2. 5 stars
    YUMMY! I was able to make this out of ingredients we had on hand. Thank you so much for a quick, easy, and delicious meal!

  3. 5 stars
    Amazing!!! Can’t wait to make this again, gave my sister who lives next door a bowl and she was freaking over it! Thanks for this comforting delicious recipe! Looking forward to trying more of your delightful creations.

  4. Where can I find quick cooking polenta – been to several stores, including non traditional ones? Can I use course ground cornmeal instead?

    1. Hi Eileen,
      Yes ground cornmeal will work, I like to order my polenta from Thrive Market. I hope you love the recipe, please let me know if you have any other questions! xTieghan

  5. 4 stars
    Cooking with polenta and halloumi cheese are both a first for this house! Really fun and tasty way to experiment with new ingredients. And it’s CRAZY filling!

  6. 5 stars
    I made this tonight and it was delicious. I used a pre-mixed polenta package (trying to clean out the pantry) so I actually only made half the recipe – the tomatoes and halloumi – but it was an excellent way to use up the surplus of garden tomatoes and felt surprisingly light and summery with all those delicious garden herbs. Will definitely make again!

  7. 5 stars
    This cherry tomato pesto polenta with fried halloumi is delicious. I halved the recipe for my husband and me and we both enjoyed it so much. With my home grown grape tomatoes and pesto from last years basil harvest, it made for a special treat. The fried halloumi went so well with this dish and another example of your creativity. I will be trying more of your vegetarian polenta creations.

  8. This looks amazing! And such a great use of our garden tomatoes. What brand of quick cooking polenta do you use? I only have regular and couldn’t find the quick cooking. Thanks!

  9. For the record I grew up with a Romanian version of polenta and am so excited for the nostalgia factor this dish will bring, also it. sounds. delicious.

    I was wondering where you find that type of cheese? I’m a Trader Joe’s girl and haven’t seen it there, any favorite kinds to try? Also- I meal prep food that will last about three days to eat after my shifts, would this a good reheat and eat meal?

    Can’t wait to make it! As always thanks for sharing this!

    1. Hey Kathleen,
      I usually find my Halloumi at Whole Foods. This would be great to reheat, except the Halloumi would not stay crispy as long as you are okay with that! I hope you love the recipe, please let me know if you have any other questions! xTieghan

  10. 5 stars
    If you’re in the mood to switch up dinner for a change of pace, try this recipe! Great flavors. Easy. Delicious!

  11. 5 stars
    I love when you post a recipe and I have all the ingredients on hand! Had this for lunch and it was as good as you described. I took your suggestion and used rosemary, wow! Loved the creamy polenta, sweet tomatoes with a touch of spicy ness and that bit of salt from the Halloumi! This is indeed “so good!”

  12. Tiegan,
    I want to make this but can’t find Halloumi cheese. What can I substitute? I was thinking feta, but want to check with you. Thanks!

    1. Hey Nancy,
      Feta would be a great substitute for the Halloumi! I hope you love the recipe, please let me know if you have any other questions! xTieghan

  13. Totally making this for my niece and her fiance next week along with some simple grilled chicken! Looks amazing!