Baked Polenta with Eggplant, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Basil Sauce
For this dish, the polenta can be made up to 24 hours ahead of time, or the whole dish can be assembled and held for a few hours before cooking. The first time I made this was for a summer afternoon barbecue at my stepmother Elizabeth’s temporary home in the Pacific Palisades. The tomatoes and the basil came from my garden, her terrace was warm and filled with flowers, and we drank a grassy Honig Sauvignon Blanc that perfectly balanced the slight acidity of the tomatoes.
Cooking Methodbaking, roasting, sauteeing
Total Timeunder 4 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together
Recipe Coursehot appetizer, main course, side dish
Dietary Considerationhot appetizer, main course, side dish
Taste and Texturecheesy, herby, salty, savory, tangy
Type of Dishvegetable
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1 cup polenta or coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 eggplant (about 1 pound), pricked in several places with a fork
- 1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ medium-size sweet onion, such as Maui or Walla Walla, coarsely chopped
- 6 medium-size ripe plum tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and diced
- 3 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, finely diced
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup (firmly packed) fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne
- ½ cup crumbled feta
- Sprigs of fresh basil, for garnish
IN A LARGE HEAVY SAUCEPAN, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 6 minutes or until softened. Add the chicken stock, milk, and salt and increase the heat to high. When the liquid is simmering, gradually sprinkle the polenta over in a slow, thin stream, whisking constantly in the same direction until all the grains are incorporated and no lumps remain. Reduce the heat to very low. Switch to a wooden paddle and stir every 1 or 2 minutes for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the mixture pulls away from the side of the pan and the grains of polenta have softened. Stir in the pepper and Parmesan.
RINSE AN 8 × 12-INCH PAN with cold water and shake dry. Pour the polenta into the pan and, using a rubber spatula repeatedly dipped in very hot water, spread the polenta evenly in the pan until it is just under ½ inch thick. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
PREHEAT THE OVEN to 400°F.
TO MAKE THE SAUCE: In a medium roasting pan, bake the eggplant for 1 hour, or until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel the eggplant and cut it into ½-inch cubes; set aside. In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until just softened. Add the fresh tomatoes and the sundried tomatoes and cook, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from the heat and add the salt, pepper, eggplant, and basil. Stir to mix. (The mixture may be cooled and refrigerated for up to 2 hours, if desired.)
WHEN READY TO SERVE, preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush an 8-inch square or 8 × 12-inch rectangular baking dish with a little olive oil.
CUT THE POLENTA into 3-inch squares and place them in the baking dish, overlapping slightly, in 2 rows. Spoon some of the sauce down either side and in the center, not covering the polenta completely. Sprinkle the feta over the exposed polenta and cover with aluminum foil.
BAKE FOR 40 TO 45 MINUTES, or until the polenta is slightly golden and the sauce is bubbling. Garnish with sprigs of fresh basil and serve immediately.
1997 Brigit Legere Binns