Wednesday, September 11, 2013

polenta with slow roasted tomatoes...

The upside to being broke is the surge of creativity poverty evokes. The work week pretty much takes care of itself but the days off are where the challenge lays. Typically on those days the little kitchen is a flurry of activity. First the big clean up, fridge and pantry are assessed, cookbooks tagged, foodie websites scoured and email newsletters are perused for more inspiration, and lists are made. 
In the lean times, The Three Amigos are a girls best friend in the kitchen.  This is an amazing trio of condiments that include slow roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. They are cheap to produce and once the prep is done and the peppers are roasted, you can leave the rest alone and go do something else. So for all of about $6.00 I bought 4 pounds of cheap supermarket plum tomatoes (super low and slow roasting transforms cheap flavorless tomatoes), 5 large yellow onions and 3 red bell peppers.  
I like to roast peppers in the broiler. I cut the top and bottom off the pepper, slice the pepper open, remove the seeds and rib, and cut the pepper into 3 or 4 pieces so that they lay down flat in the broiler and will blacken evenly. Remove the green stem from the top piece and lay the two ends in the broiler as well. Keep an eye on them, checking them every 5 minutes. When the skins are all black, remove them and turn the oven down to 250 degrees. Put the peppers into a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap and let them steam for about 5 minutes. Lay the pieces on a cutting board and peel the skins off. I use a cheap serrated steak knife and scrape the skins off while using a fork to hold the piece in place.
To roast the tomatoes, slice them in half lengthwise, brush with olive oil and sprinkle a bit of salt on top.  Lay them on parchment  lined baking sheets and roast in a 250 degree oven for about 3 hours. This really depends on the size and quality of your tomatoes. The larger and more watery the tomato, the longer it will take. They will shrink significantly, but there should still be a little burst of super delicious, intense juice when you bite into it. I cooked this batch a little too long and many of the edges were tough. They wouldn't be so great on a sandwich, but were perfect cut up and mixed into this polenta.
The peppers and tomatoes can be stored in airtight jars covered with olive oil for up to a week. I love to use the flavored olive oil for scrambling eggs.
In a moment I can only attribute to serendipity, I opened up my weekly America's Test Kitchen newsletter the next morning to find a gorgeous Creamy Cheesy Polenta staring at me. Oh yes. I pictured the jar of polenta in my pantry, made a couple of notes and I high tailed it home. I took 2 tips from ATK. I used more water and added baking soda (this apparently works on polenta the way it does with beans). It wasn't until the polenta was done, that it occurred to me to add some chopped up roasted tomatoes. I didn't think polenta could get any better. 
I like to cook polenta in a broth made with Better Than Bouillion (low sodium) and a sprig of rosemary, both optional
Creamy Cheesy Tomatoey Polenta
adapted from America's Test Kitchen
7 1/2 cups water
 1 1/2 tablespoons Better Than Bouillion (optional)
sprig of fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups dried polenta (don't use the quick cooking kind)
1 teaspoon sea salt
a couple of grinds of pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup parmesano reggiano
5-6 roasted tomato halves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped roasted peppers
a bit more salt to taste
a bit more pepper to taste
a poached egg perhaps 
finely slivered basil for garnish
a little shaved parmesan for garnish
Bring the water to a boil, stir in the bouillion to dissolve and toss in the rosemary sprig. If using store bought rosemary (which can be dry and prone to start shedding spindles), lower the heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes to extract some flavor  from the rosemary then remove it and any errant spindles before adding the polenta. If you've just snipped it from the garden it will stay in tact and you can fish the whole thing out later, there may be a few spindles, I turn up the heat and bring to a boil again, stir in the salt and baking soda. Slowly pour in the polenta while gently stirring with a flat edged wooden spoon. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and leave it alone for 5 minutes.  Remove the cover and whisk out any lumps. Cover again and leave it for 20 minutes, or until the polenta has absorbed all the liquid and is tender.
Stir in the butter until it melts. Stir in the cheese. Taste. Add a few pinches of salt, stir and taste until the cheese really sings. You can stop right there...buuut if you're me, you toss in those tomatoes and roasted peppers. Stir, taste, salt, stir, taste until the tomatoes shine through and you've convinced yourself of your genius.
Try to resist just shoveling this into your gob straight from the pot while still standing over the stove.
Poach yourself an egg and slice up a little basil. Spoon the polenta into a bowl, top with the poached egg, crack some pepper on top, shave a little cheese over that and finish with a sprinkling of basil. Done. Done. And. Done.
Oh and purely pure coincidence, after this post was done, I Googled slow roasted tomatoes to get a fix on oven temps and lo and behold,  number one was Smitten Kitchen with this gorgeous post from her archives.

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