Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Simple Supper: Roasted Tomatoes and Spinach Polenta

Anyone who knows me knows I have magazine problems. The problem being that I love them. I keep the pile to a minimum but I always have a basket of them. I can't help it! They have pretty pictures, great ideas, things that make me think! Usually though the majority get recycled or reused and the cooking magazines get torn apart and filed.

This month I didn't need a recipe for a reminder of a favorite meal. Roasted tomatoes make my heart sing - they are just so yummy, and yet, not on that many people's radar! And polenta, well, that is just savory and comforting - who could resist?


Better Homes and Gardens has an article in the September issue about "American Home Cooking" - which contained their recipe for slow baked tomatoes with garlic and mint. Mint! It's funny how often a spice comes as a revelation to me. Last spring tarragon was an eye-opening joy. This summer, mint.

Not quite how I do my roasted tomatoes but very, very similar. Really, you don't need a recipe - just the ingredients and some time. I prefer a very slow roast but have had equally successful attempts with cooking at 250F for a longer time or 325F for a shorter time.


I start my roasted tomatoes with, you guessed it, tomatoes. As many as you like or have is fine. For smaller tomatoes slice them in half, cherry tomatoes you can leave whole if you like, and for bigger tomatoes, try slicing in equally sized chunks, or again, half is fine.


Spread your tomatoes one layer deep in a baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, throw a few cloves of garlic (or a few more, I like garlic) in there, add basil or mint (!) if you like, and drizzle with olive oil. That's it. I like my olive oil to be between 1/8" and 1/4" deep on the bottom (more with bigger tomatoes, to keep them from sticking and burning). Pop in the oven and roast - just keep an eye on them - when they look like the picture below they're done!


That's it! I served these over a spinach polenta but you can keep them in the fridge for a week or pop them in the freezer for later. I like to freeze whole tomatoes throughout the season, just as they are, ripe and whole. Pull them out the morning you think you'll use them and the skins pop off with a little squeeze - great for sauces, soups, anything.

I also like to roast big heirloom tomatoes to freeze as well. Add a few roasted tomatoes into whatever you are making and the flavor becomes more complex, deeper and slightly smoky. In this case you might want to use less oil and a slower roast method. Regardless make sure to save the oil - with it's savory garlic and tomato infused flavor it's a great drizzle for a simple soup, on a piece of bread with cheese, or over fresh steamed veggies.


So, polenta. How do you make it? Easy, easy, easy. It's little more than boiling water, adding the corn meal/grits, stirring, waiting and popping in a dish. Really! I really like the Bob's Red Mill Organic type I'm also a big fan of their mission and being employee owned, but that's another blog), but I'm sure other brands (or better yet, local crops) are great as well. The instructions on the package are really all you need. Promise.

For our polenta I added spinach - a few handfuls, shredded a bit, some asiago/parmesan/hard cheese. Put some of those roasted tomatoes on top, a drizzle of oil, and some fresh basil.* Mmmm! Delish! This is even better than the variation we usually do - a bed of steamed greens, polenta on top, topped with fresh marinara sauce and some shredded hard cheese. The same, but different.

You don't need to cook the spinach if you add it to the polenta while it cooks - it's hot enough to do the work for you. If you want to use a hardier green - like a chard or kale I might suggest a bit of pre-cooking first. You could try beet greens as well. Or add in a chopped scallion or two. Make your polenta south western style with some whole corn kernels and roasted peppers in it and a bit of salsa or roasted tomatillos (same recipe, with tomatillos!) on top. You really can't go wrong - and if you are new to cooking this is a great way to experiment with flavor. Heck, I'll bet if you really wanted you could make a pretty amazing chocolate polenta as an alternative to a more gluten-laden bread pudding. (After a quick search, apparently I'm not the first to think of this, ...now I have to try it!)

*Note: Be careful with the salt - since you are adding salt to the tomatoes, maybe don't add it to the water like the polenta package might suggest - especially if you are using a salt cheese as well.

Roasted tomatoes really are an American classic and useful in so many recipes. Let's face it, polenta is little more than thickened grits, another American classic so roasted tomatoes on polenta? A classic all it's own.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

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