POLENTA TURNS MAGICAL AND FESTIVE!!!

Polenta TortePOLENTA HOLIDAY TORTE

This festive, voluptuous polenta dish, with its enticing eye appeal, was created when I was invited to a family holiday dinner and happened to have some Hummus and Basil Butter on hand. It was a natural to combine them with polenta and add the Sun-dried Tomato Pesto as the top layer. Notice that the Basil Butter contains no oil, yet still delivers the delightful undertones of basil.

Below is an array of topping recipes to get you started in making a fun and easy make-ahead polenta dish. Consider these recipes as suggestions that you can adapt in any way. The recipes may even spark a few new ideas for polenta toppings.

I’ve made this dish in a ton of different ways because the polenta makes such a perfect base for almost any topping. And you can have fun garnishing it in myriad ways, too.

In one variation, I assembled it with Hummus, Basil Butter, and Veggie Mountain on thepolentamountain copy top.

At one company dinner, I had put the polenta on a large oven-safe platter and cooled it in the refrigerator. Shortly before dinner, I warmed it briefly in the oven at about 200 degrees F. I served each person a pie-shaped wedge and topped it with a delicious ragout. The finishing touch was a garnish of Homemade Parmesan, giving it a delicious Italian touch.

polenta w:tomato sauceOnce, I substituted the veggie mountain with Easy Tomato Sauce and topped it with Homemade Parmesan.

Feel free to be creative with the topping combinations and you’ll discover that no matter what you choose, you’ll have a great main dish on the table that’s wholesome and attractive.

To make this recipe come together with ease, prepare the toppings of your choice a day or two ahead. That way, the assembly is super-easy and stress-free.

This dish is also a great traveler for short distances. If you’re asked to bring a dish to a potluck or a friend’s for dinner, just place a few toothpicks around the edge and near the center. That way, the covering of plastic wrap won’t spoil your design.

An enjoyable main dish, the polenta can be served any season of the year, gently warmed or at room temperature. Add a heaping tossed salad and the meal is complete.

Polenta TortePOLENTA HOLIDAY TORTE

 Yield: 6 servings

Polenta

4 cups water

1/2 cup unsweetened soymilk

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarse cornmeal (polenta)

TO MAKE THE POLENTA, have ready a large, round platter about 15-inches in diameter. In a 4-quart saucepan combine the water, soymilk, and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Watch carefully to prevent a messy boil-over.

Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the cornmeal. Stir frequently with a wire whip for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the polenta is fully cooked and has thickened to the consistency of thick oatmeal. Spoon the polenta onto the platter and set aside in the refrigerator to cool and solidify.

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ASSEMBLING THE DISH: After you’ve prepared the polenta and chosen and prepared the toppings you plan to use, you’ll want to assemble the torte.

Start by spreading a generous portion of the first layer over the cooked and cooled polenta, leaving a 1/2-inch border of polenta visible.

Follow with a second topping, spreading it over the first layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border.

Choose as many or as few toppings as you like. You don’t have to use the entire recipe–sometimes just a few spoonfuls are all you need to enhance the polenta. Put the leftovers in the fridge for a future recipe or to spread over rice, pasta, or baked potatoes.

To serve the Polenta Holiday Torte, cut it into several wedges and serve.

CHOOSE YOUR FAVORITE TOPPINGS!

Hummus

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drainedPolenta Torte

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

TO MAKE THE HUMMUS, place the garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt into the food processor and process until thick and creamy. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Makes 1 3/4 cups hummus.

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Basil Butter

2 cups chopped zucchini

2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup raw pine nuts

1/4 cup raw or roasted pistachios or pecans

2 1/2 tablespoons red miso

1 clove garlic

1/8 teaspoon pepper

TO MAKE THE BASIL BUTTER, combine the zucchini, basil leaves, pine nuts, pistachios, miso, garlic, and pepper in the food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Makes 1 1/2 cups basil butter.

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Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

1 (5-ounce) package unsulphured sun-dried tomatoes (I used the ones from melissas.com)

Boiling water to cover

5 to 6 tablespoons tomato soak water

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

TO MAKE THE SUN-DRIED TOMATO PESTO, put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Set aside to soften for 7 to 8 minutes, or until soft. Transfer the softened tomatoes to the food processor and add the soak water, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and process until smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Note: This recipe makes more than you’ll need for the torte. You may want to cut it in half or simply enjoy the leftovers on pasta or baked potatoes.

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Veggie Mountain

1 large zucchini, diced

1 yellow pepper, diced

2 Indian or 1 Japanese or Chinese eggplant, diced

1 cup chopped broccolipolentamountain copy

1/2 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons water

Salt and pepper

1 lemon cut in half (optional)

TO MAKE THE VEGGIE MOUNTAIN, combine the zucchini, bell pepper, eggplant, broccoli, onion, and water, and water-sauté over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add small amounts of water as needed to cook the vegetables and prevent burning them. Season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside.

If using the Veggie Mountain, spoon all of the cooked vegetables over the top, piling them as high as necessary. If desired, add a squeeze of lemon juice over the top. Alternatively, cut a lemon into 6 wedges, arrange the wedges on a small serving plate and serve at the table for anyone who might like to add a splash of tang.

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Homemade Parmesan

1 cup almonds

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons nutritional yeast flakes

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

TO MAKE THE HOMEMADE PARMESAN, put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they are finely ground, yet still retain a bit of texture, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. (Avoid over-processing or it will turn into almond butter.)

Add the nutritional yeast, onion powder, salt, and garlic powder and pulse until well mixed. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. Covered and refrigerated, Homemade Parmesan will keep for 3 month.

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Easy Tomato Sauce

1 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, dicedpolenta w:tomato sauce

1/2 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

TO MAKE THE EASY TOMATO SAUCE, put the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and oregano in an open 2-quart saucepan and cook and stir over medium high heat for 3 to 7 minutes, or until they are cooked down and somewhat thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Polenta Goes Ragout
1 pound Brussels sprouts, quartered
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large sweet onion, sliced vertically
1 large portabella mushroom, chopped, or 8 ounces sliced button mushrooms
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/4 cups dry red wine
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce

1 or 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 or 2 tablespoons water

1 green onion, sliced, for garnish

1 tablespoon well-drained capers

TO MAKE THE RAGOUT, combine the Brussels sprouts, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, garbanzo beans, wine, water, and soy sauce in a large, deep skillet. Cook and stir over medium-high heat for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the Brussels sprouts are tender. Adjust the heat as needed to prevent burning the vegetables.

Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl or cup and stir well to form a runny paste. Add the paste to the simmering sauce a little at a time, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, or until the sauce is thickened to desired consistency.

To serve, cut the polenta into pie-shaped wedges, place a serving on each dish, and spoon a generous portion of the warm Ragout over the polenta. Finish the top of each serving with a sprinkle of sliced green onions and a few capers.

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Leftovers:

Hummus and Basil Butter are the makings of a seductive sandwich. Start by spreading whole grain bread or sprouted wheat bagel with a layer of Hummus. Top with Basil Butter. Then, finish with a thick slice of tomato and greens like spinach or romaine.

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