We had time on the weekend for a bit of serious cooking and the swiftly approaching winter was all the prompting we needed to try out this baked polenta recipe from Veggie num num. It sounded hearty and warm and seemed like a good way to pass a Saturday afternoon so we grabbed our ingredients in the morning and I got cracking as Cindy napped through the late afternoon.
It's a multi-stage recipe - you've got to make the romesco sauce, cook the polenta, make the breadcrumb/spice mix, assemble the whole deal and make the side dish while it bakes, so you want to put aside a decent chunk of time. I reckon it was a leisurely two and a half hours or so of faffing around in the end (although you could definitely do it faster if you were a bit more organised). I'm not sure we had the right kind of polenta - ours was cooked in about 2 minutes and unstirrable by 5 minutes (which was part of the reason our recipe is basil-less. Also I just forgot to stir it in). I also found the proportions a bit out of whack - we were stuck spreading the sauce very, very thin at the end, and would up with heaps of polenta slices leftover. I'm not quite sure what went wrong, but it wouldn't be the worst idea to bulk up your sauce a little bit more than what's listed below.
It's a hefty tray of food, with some nice roasted tomatoey flavours and a crunchy top. The results were reasonably satisfying, but I'm not sure they were really worth all the time and effort that went into the dish. In contrast the 10 minutes or so that the warm bean salad took was definitely worth it - it was simple but magnificent and will definitely feature as a semi-regular side dish for us in the future.
Warm polenta with romesco sauce
(based on this recipe from Veggie num num)
350g cherry tomatoes
1 red capsicum, halved and deseeded
2 chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 slices of bread, torn
30g raw slivered almonds
juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons of olive oil
Put the tomatoes and the capsicum halves (skin side up) on a baking tray, drizzle them with a tablespoon of oil and stick them under a hot grill for five minutes or so, until their skin is nice and black. Leave to cool while you make the rest of the sauce and then peel the charred skin off.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a pan and add in the chillies, garlic, bread and nuts. Stir-fry on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the nuts have started to roast but before they've burned. Leave to cool while you go and peel your capsicum.
Combine the tomatoes, capsicum and the frying pan mixture with the lemon juice and some salt and pepper in a food processor and whiz it all into a saucy paste. Ours was a very thick paste, which is probably okay, but it might stretch a bit further if you upped the tomatoes by 100g or so and threw in another capsicum.
2 cups polenta
5 cups of veggie stock (we just used Massel 'chicken' stock)
~ 1 cup of breadcrumbs combined with 1 tablespoon of za'atar or similar spice mix and 1 tablespoon of olive oil
Bring the stock to the boil in a decent sized saucepan and gradually add the polenta, stirring. Lower the heat and cook until the polenta is thick and smooth (note that this took us about 3 minutes, while the recipe suggested ~10 minutes. Also: once you've cooked the polenta, you can stir through fresh basil leaves, which I think would be an excellent addition).
Pour the polenta into a lightly greased baking tray and smooth the top down as best you can. Pop it in the fridge to set - we gave ours about half an hour, but it could probably have done with a bit longer.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Tip the polenta out of the baking tray onto a cutting board and slice it about 1cm thick (I may have sliced ours too thinly, meaning we had more polenta surface area than we needed).
Assemble your polenta-bake in the same tray you set the polenta in. Start by spreading a layer of the romesco sauce on the bottom, cover with a layer of polenta slices. Add another layer of sauce and another of polenta before topping with the remaining sauce and the breadcrumb/spice mix.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the breadcrumbs have crisped up and everything is cooked through.
Warm bean salad
120g grean beans, halved longways
1 zucchini, julienned
30g slivered almonds
1 small brown onion, diced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
While your polenta bake is in the oven, quickly put together this side dish.
Fry the veggies, almonds and onion with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for about five minutes, stirring regularly. Kill the heat.
Whisk together the Dijon, vinegar and remaining oil. Stir the dressing through the veggie mixture in the frying pan and serve.