If you read any blogs written by people who live in Seattle, or if you follow any of us on Twitter, you are probably tired of hearing us complain about the weather. This has been the summer that practically wasn’t. We have had some decent days here and there but we have also had lots of low temperatures, clouds, and rain. After a long wet dark spring, we all feel we are due some sunshine. Our summer is why we put up with the winter after all.
I am looking ahead to the forecast for the week and it looks like we have some warm and then hot weather on the way. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. Like all good Northwesterners, I usually complain when it gets too hot. I like my temperature right around 78º, thank you very much. But at this point I don’t care. I’ll take heat as long as there is sun so I can make summery food and enjoy it out on our patio instead of in the kitchen with the heat on.
Polenta has always been a bit elusive for me. All that stirring! For some reason I don’t mind stirring risotto but I hate stirring polenta. The good people at Cook’s Illustrated have, in the past year, come up with ways to make both risotto and polenta without constant stirring and I give them a big cyber-thank you. I adapted their practically no-stir method slightly (because I was just lazy enough that I didn’t want to fashion my own flame tamer), and just gave it a good stir every 5 minutes or so.
So what do we have here? Triangles of polenta wedged in tight on a bed of tomato sauce, a quick sauté of corn, tomatoes, garlic, and jalapeño peppers, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. The whole thing gets baked in the oven until it is bubbly then you get summer on a plate. Besides its deliciousness and seasonal appeal, here are some things I like about this recipe.
You can make the tomato sauce days before and the polenta a day or two before.
You can also make it super easy on yourself and use store-bought tomato sauce and one of the those polenta logs. (I won’t tell anyone.)
You can assemble the whole thing early in the day and keep it in the refrigerator until ready to bake.
You can bake it about two hours before you want to serve it and just let people eat it room temperature.
This is healthy food that is super flavorful. Really the only fat you are getting is from a small amount of Parmesan cheese.
It makes a LOT of food.
In fact, I cut this recipe in half which is something I rarely do. I find it’s always better to have more food on hand than less – if for no other reason that wonderful people like to babysit at my house because there is usually something good in the refrigerator. But I made this early in the week and I knew there would not be a lot of leftover eating so I made less. We still could have fed four with the dish.
Polenta (recipe follows)
1½-2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 ears of corn, kernels shaved off the cob
¾ pound tomatoes, cored and seeded
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 or 2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
First make the polenta. Make sure you have plenty of time to allow it to set up.
Heat the butter in a large skillet and add the corn. Sauté over medium heat just until the corn is tender, about 5 minutes for very fresh corn. Season with a sprinkling of salt. While the corn is cooking, cut the tomatoes into large pieces. Marinate the tomatoes in the olive oil with a ¼ teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cool the corn and toss with the tomatoes, half the basil, and the chiles. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Pour the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan. Arrange the polenta triangles upright in tows across the width of the dish, overlapping the triangles slightly; use all of the polenta. Spoon the vegetables into the spaces between the polenta triangles, separating the rows as you go. Sprinkle with the cheese. Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes, until the gratin is bubbly. Sprinkle on the remaining basil and serve.
To keep the whole dish even more healthy, I skipped the butter and cheese in the actual polenta but you can add them for even more flavor.
6 cups water
1½ tsp. salt
1½ cups coarse cornmeal
¼ tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Lightly oil a 9×13-inch baking dish and set aside. Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt, then vigorously whisk in the cornmeal. Bring it back to a boil, stirring all the while, then reduce the heat as low as it will go. Cover the pan. Stir every 5 minutes or so until the polenta is smooth, about 20 minutes all together.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the pepper, the butter, and the cheese. Pour the hot polenta into the baking dish and set aside to cool. Once it is cool, cover and refrigerate to make the polenta even more firm. Once cold, dump the whole thing out on a cutting board and cut it into 12 squares. Cut each square into two triangles.