This dish makes for a perfect first course in a tasting menu, or—served generously—shines as an entrée. Its sauce is, in fact, amazing, but the real secret here is in the pointy-shaped polenta. Fun-shaped foods aren’t just for kids, you know. These triangles set the stage for their smokey, slightly-spicey, super-fresh (and resolutely free-form) topping, and hint at untold personal histories at Casa Ombuto, high in the Tuscan hills. No need to set the record straight: let your guests marvel at your sophistication. Let them wonder at your orderly kitchen, and how you manage it all. I won’t tell, if you don’t, that this took you only thirty minutes in the morning. Serve it on your best China, if you’re so inclined—your easy-cooking secrets are safe in the Alt-Mama vault.
By the way, using a slow-cooker for the sauce will help the flavors meld to perfection (and also make this dish just straight-up ridiculous on the 'easy' front…), but you can also prep this on the stove-top, using some good olive oil, just before dinner time.
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For the Polenta:
- 3 cups purified water
- 1 cup cornmeal (polenta), medium-ground
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
For the Sauce:
- Five or six medium-sized Japanese eggplants, washed, halved length-wise and sliced into half-inch pieces. (No need to skin these delicate darlings… And a tip: farmers markets offer these up aplenty at this time of year. Local and fresh is always best!).
- 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes (I used the Muir Glen fire-roasted kind… Highly recommend this, if you want the above mentioned touch of ‘smokey’ flavor. Or, get crazy and roast your own.)
- 1 14.5 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small hot pepper
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. dried parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the Garnish (optional):
- About ½ a pound of cherry tomatoes (if you can pick up some colorful heirloom varieties, you’ve scored)
- About ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- Some extra-special olive oil, if you have some in the cupboard
What You’ll Do
1. Make the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan, and then pour the cornmeal into the boiling water in a continuous stream, while stirring. Add the salt, and reduce the heat to low. Cook uncovered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil and cheese, and then transfer to a 9x7 (or whatever you have) shallow casserole dish or pan (greased with olive oil), spreading the polenta evenly over the entire surface. Let it cool for a few minutes, and then cover with foil and place in the fridge until later. Note: I did this in the morning, just before the next step, but you could do it up to one hour before mealtime.
2. Throw all of the ingredients for the sauce into your slow cooker, and cook on low for six to eight hours (high for four to six).
3. To serve, remove the polenta from the fridge and slice first in a grid (make your squares whatever size you like), and then into triangles (diagonally across your squares). Arrange the triangles on plates and top with the sauce, some sliced cherry tomatoes, chopped basil and a drizzling of fancy olive oil. Yum!