Saturday, January 22, 2011

Let Them Eat Polenta Cake

Simply boiled cornmeal, polenta, a traditional Italian porridge, is considered as a peasant food. Filling, readily available and inexpensive, back in the day it was the poor man’s dinner. Then again, some of our most favorite Italian foods (pizza, pasta) originated as such.

As the frugal-minded know, just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Depending on how you accessorize, you can easily work a dress from Target like it was from Neiman’s. Same deal with polenta; while it’s just fine in its simplest form, how you prepare this “peasant food” and what you serve it with can make all the difference.

These days, polenta is on a whole new level. It has moved on up and is comfortably residing in its deluxe apartment in the sky. Served creamy and spooned high on plates topped with hearty ragu, or set and cut into shapes--perhaps even fried, polenta has become a popular item on restaurant menus, served in an endless number of rustic but rich ways.

Polenta Cake with Sun Dried Tomato Sauce, Caponata, and Parmigiano Tuile

As with polenta’s history, this polenta dish is a classic case of using what you got and making it taste good. Sun dried tomatoes from the Sunday before = sun dried tomato sauce. A block of Parmigiano in the refrigerator cheese drawer = Parmigiano tuiles or cheese wafers. I admit, I had to go buy some of the caponata ingredients, and for the polenta, I used instant.

Instant polenta is amazingly, well, instant. Simply whisk into boiling water or stock and it bubbles up and expands into a delicious mass of cornmeal mush. To make polenta cakes, pour out soft cornmeal onto a sheet tray, spread out, cool in the fridge until set, and cut out shapes. If you don’t have a cookie cutter, you can cut triangles or squares with a knife.

The polenta cakes work really nicely with the caponata and sun dried tomato sauce. Of course, you can just pile all these components together and it will still taste just as good, but depending on the occasion, a circle cookie cutter is all you need to create the pretty layers you see in the photo.

And how cool are the Parmigiano tuiles? They add a nice extra touch to this great appetizer and aren’t as hard as they might seem (please see recipe for instructions).

Polenta Cakes with Caponata, Sun Dried Tomato Sauce, and Parmigiano Tuile:

Yield- 12-15 cakes

- 1 ½ cups quick cooking polenta
- 4 ½ cups water
- Salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Pepper to taste
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 eggplant, small dice (2 cups)
- 1 red bell pepper, small dice
- 1 medium onion, small dice
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons raisins (black or white)
- 5 large green olives, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons marinated sun dried tomato, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons sun dried tomato sauce (recipe follows)
- 4 oz water
- Salt and pepper to taste
Sun Dried Tomato Sauce:
- 4 oz marinated sun dried tomato
- 1 cup chicken stock, hot
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Liberal sprinkling of garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano Tuile:
- 2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely grated

• Preheat oven to 220 degrees F.
• Polenta: Bring water to a boil and season with salt. Gradually pour in polenta, while stirring constantly. Reduce to a simmer while continuing to stir; cook for 3 minutes or more for thicker consistency. Add seasoning and mix in 2 tablespoons of butter to finish. Pour polenta into a greased half sheet pan and spread out evenly. Cover with plastic and refrigerate. When cold, cut into circles or other desired shapes (triangles, squares…).
• Sun dried tomato sauce: in a blender or food processor, process tomatoes. Add hot chicken stock in two parts, and blend until smooth. Return sauce to a medium pot and put over medium heat. Add balsamic, sugar, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
• Caponata: heat olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add celery and sauté until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and sauté until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Season with salt. Add the red pepper and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add onion and garlic; sauté until translucent. Add sundried tomatoes, olives, raisins, oregano, sugar, vinegar, water, and sun dried tomato sauce. Simmer over medium-low heat until the flavors blend and the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
• Parmigiano tuile: on a sheet tray, place grated cheese inside of a round cookie cutter to give it its shape. Cook in preheated 220 degree oven until melted, about 5 minutes—keep a close eye on them. Once out of the oven, allow the tuiles to completely cool and set before carefully removing from tray.
• To assemble: spoon sun dried tomato sauce on a plate and top with polenta cake. Spoon caponata on top of polenta cake and finish with a Parmigiano tuile.


Stephanie said...

Yum, this looks amazing! I love idea of combining soft polenta with crunchy Parmigiano Tuile and flavorful sun dried tomato sauce.

Pacheco Patty said...

This does look wonderful, reminds me of Italy;-)

Rosemary said...

These do look wonderful! After all the Italian dishes I've ever made, I've still not made polenta. I'll have to now. I love those Parmesan crunchies too.

Eftychia said...

This recipe looks very tasty. I saved it in my favorite recipe list. I will try it for sure. Thank you for sharing.

Foodtographer said...

I do love polenta. Simple, good, and versatile. A great combination of flavors on this one. YUM!

Chef Dennis said...

what a wonderful combination of flavors going on, I love caponata that paired with the polenta and that sundried sauce sounds delicious!!

Thanks for sharing it with us!

Victoria said...

Lovely presentation! I love all of those components separately, but have never put them together before! This is an excellent appetizer or vegetarian entree :)

Amy said...

This looks delicious! Beautiful picture - can't wait to try.

Claudia said...

This is so lovely. I have done a sweet polenta cake but never the savory and now I am itching to try that. I love Parm "tuiles" or fricos as we call it. Our entire family can eat them like candy.

Adelina said...

This looks like the most perfect polenta! I love all the care you've put in into your creation.

Angie's Recipes said...

This looks like from a fine dining restaurant. Yummy!

Jenny (VintageSugarcube) said...

I've actually never cooked with polenta before, and this is the best looking polenta recipe I've ever seen. And the sauce sounds ahhhmazing. Kudos to you. I


What a lovely stack! Polenta is so comforting~ add tomato sauce and cheese...That's it, I'm coming over!

Elisabeth said...

The trio you've created is certainly a "labor of love"...just the caponata alone is quite a work!
Love all three, and the sundried tomato sauce, is beautiful, as well!

Kimberly Peterson said...

That looks really pretty and tasty! Would make an awesome entree at a dinner party!

Elsa said...

I love everything about this dish. Yum!

Monet said...

What a beautiful presentation of polenta! I don't think I've seen it look prettier. Thank you for sharing your recipe with me. I hope you have a Saturday full of relaxation and laughter! We all need it!

Kristen said...

What a stunning dish.