Baked tomato & cheese polenta
When I saw Hungry & Frozen’s baked tomato polenta, I felt like all the previous burning bubbles of polenta I’d ever suffered in the past were for naught. All this time I could have avoided the stirring, and burns?! So naturally I wait until it’s almost summer, five years after the recipe is posted, to make this. Fortunately for you northern hemisphere dwellers, this is perfect timing for any chilly weather that may or may not be heading your way (who knows with all the crazy climate stuff). Since I was too tired at the time to find the original recipe, I just kind of winged it, and as a result, the super-lazy version is born. Chuck everything in a casserole dish or a covered baking dish, and an hour later of not really touching it again, dinner is done.
Ohhh, and I almost forgot the most important bit, which should come as no surprise – layer it with fluffy clouds of grated parmesan to serve (if we’re going to get technical I used grana padano, but use whatever cheese you like, but something strong is good, as the polenta is pretty mild even with the tomatoes). Regular cheese is fine too, although I’d add that in the last 20 minute of cooking with the pan uncovered so the cheese flavour condenses.
This is one of those brilliantly versatile dishes that you can chuck just about any vegetable in, but just so you know – the vegetables don’t overcook even if you put them in at the very start. I quite liked the just-cooked crunch of the cauliflower I used, but was wise enough to roast the aubergine alongside rather than in the polenta. A quick rule of thumb is – anything that wouldn’t cook in 2 minutes in a stir fry will need to be roasted on a tray alongside the polenta, or you might have some pretty raw veges to contend with. Which is fine if that’s your thing. I used some pre-cooked frozen pine mushrooms I had, cauliflower, and only cooked the aubergine separately. For the small/medium aubergines I used, I just halved and scored, sprinkled with salt, and placed alongside the pot of polenta on the baking tray, skin side down. They cooked through in about 40 minutes from a cold oven, then I just ripped them up with a knife and fork and stirred them into the polenta, and let it bake a little longer. Since the polenta was a bit dry, at that point I also added some water and tomato paste. Fixed it nicely.
Extra things I have discovered work really nicely in this: mustard, lemon juice or vinegar (just to bring out the acidity in the tomatoes a bit more), extra tomato paste if it’s tasting a bit too mild, dried mushrooms, aioli or herbed mayo, lots of butter, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, spinach, cream, olives, toasted slivered almonds to serve for some rich crunch, chipotle, a smidge of brown sugar, fresh herbs on top…you know, all the good things in life. If you’re an anchovy fan I’m pretty sure they would be pretty delicious in this.
makes as much as you like – a rough formula adapted from the recipe from Hungry & Frozen
- 1 part polenta/cornmeal (instant would work in less time and be good if your veges were spinach or something, but I used regular polenta)
- 1-2 parts tomato goop (puree, passata, chopped)
- 1-2 parts water, stock, or whey
- veges, herbs, spices of choice (see preceding paragraph for suggestions)
- 1 part (in volume, not weight) finely grated parmesan/grana padano, more or less
- generous knob of butter or glug of extra virgin olive oil (if using olive oil, use it to finish rather than cooking it to death)
- salt and pepper to taste
In your baking vessel of choice, stir everything except cheese together except any veges that need to be roasted alongside. Cover with baking tray or al foil or lid. Brush any veges you are cooking alongside with oil, and place them on a tray. Pop everything in the oven, turn the heat up to anywhere between 180C-200C (355F-390F), and leave for 40 minutes.
Once that timer goes, check consistency & seasoning – if your polenta is too dry for your liking, add stock/water. If too wet, uncover or tilt the lid/leave a little gap for steam to escape. If it’s not tomato-y enough, add tomato paste. Etc. Remember you’ll be adding cheese though. At this point if you have roasted veges alongside, it’s a good time to pop them into the pot so they soak up a little flavour from the stock/tomato. Or if you’re using regular cheese, top your polenta with it now and bake uncovered. Resume cooking for about 10-20 minutes if necessary to finish off any veg in the polenta or get cheese to a nice and golden stage. If using spinach or delicate leafy greens, add them in the last two minutes of cooking.
Serve layered with handfuls of cheese.
To reheat, break up the polenta with a fork, add water, cover, and microwave.