January is off to a crazy busy start, and I've found myself in an odd limbo between wanting desperately to cook real food and wanting to forgo the kitchen drama in exchange for a lovely Spinach Sabzi Plate at the Middle Eastern cafe down the street. I have far exceeded my threshold of eating out however; I've been out of town traveling half the month and will be gone yet again the next two weekends. Sadly, the stockpile of beautiful root vegetables I bought from the Farmer's Market around New Year's Day was threatening to go limp with so much as a slight squeeze. Wednesday arrived and I had yet to chop an onion (dramatic exaggeration - like I'd go all week without making something), I had to do something with the remaining produce in my refrigerator before I left town again.
So many root vegetables popped out at me as I stared into my fridge and cupboards .... rutabagas, parsnips, winter squash, turnips, sweet potatoes, and fingerling potatoes (oh the most lovely little purple ones!). My immediate reaction to such a display is, "ROAST." I loves me some roasted veggies. Most times I try preparing them another way, I usually miss that crispy, semi-burnt crunch on the outside with the sweet, soft, near sugary inside. My only apprehension toward roasting all the time is a self-conscious insecurity that I'm simply lacking creativity. Well I ditched that hogwash and came to the resolution that I would roast these babies anyway and be creative about how I used them afterward.
Assessing the resources at my disposal and keeping in mind this meal was also feeding non-vegans, I wanted to make some kind of comfort food that is familiar but healthy of course. I hadn't made polenta in ages, but cornmeal slop isn't always appetizing to shy eaters. Having just used my spring form pan to make a chocolate cake, I spotted it out of the corner of my eye and thought...PIZZA! Polenta makes a fabulous crust. Although it lacks the crunch and chewiness of a wheat dough, it takes to seasoning very well and hold up firmly. I planned on the roasted vegetables as a topping, but a classic tomato sauce didn't seem to fit so I went with a Bechamel of sorts. And of course I needed a protein portion. With chilly weather upon us and even the prospect of rain (yes, it rains in the desert sometimes), I thought of a comforting herb-seasoned sausage that would pair well with the deep flavors of rutabaga and parsnips. All in all, it was no typical pizza. The final piece was round with sauce and toppings, and it sort of looked like a pizza. It tasted much more fabulous.
While this recipe looks long and laborious, each part is really quite simple. You can always do a separate task while one portion cooks or roasts and you can even make most of these ahead of time, say, for other meals and reuse them here. Don't be intimidated by the long list, it's very easy!
Polenta Pizza with Sausage and Root Vegetables
½ c. Parsnips, peeled and cubed
½ c. Rutabaga, peeled and cubed
½ Medium onion, sliced (½ inch thick)
½ c. Winter squash, peeled and cubed
½ Broccoli, cut into small florets
1 T. Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 c. Water
½ c. Polenta
2 T. Nutritional yeast
¾ tsp. Garlic Powder
½ tsp. Salt
½ c. TVP
¾ tsp Marjoram
½ tsp Onion powder
½ tsp Garlic powder
¼ tsp Thyme
¼ tsp Allspice
Pinch of nutmeg
Black pepper to taste
1 tsp Soy sauce
½ c. Boiling Water
½ tsp. Ground flax seed
1 T. Water
¼ c. Chickpea flour (or any other flour of choice)
1 T. Vegan margarine
2 T. All purpose flour
¼ c. Silken tofu
¼ c. Soy/Almond milk
¼ c. Vegetable broth
1 T. Nutritional yeast
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of white pepper
Additional Toppings: Toasted pine nuts, vegan parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives…
For roasted vegetables: Preheat over to 450ºF. Combine all vegetables except the broccoli and coat with ¾ tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread evenly on cookie sheet or roasting pan and roast in oven for 30 minutes. Toss broccoli with remain oil and add to other veggies after 30 minutes. Roast additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven temp to 350ºF.
For the polenta crust: Bring water to a boil. Slowly pour in polenta and whisk until mixture is even. Turn heat to low simmer and stir periodically with wooden spoon to prevent clumping until polenta sticks to sides and bottom of pan ~ 10 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and remove from heat. Pour polenta into 9” spring form pan and spread as evenly as possible. Once crust has cooled slightly, place a layer of plastic wrap over polenta and press down to further even the crust out. Refrigerate for ~ 10-15 minutes.
For the Sausage: Place TVP in medium mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine spices, soy sauce and boiling water. Whisk well and add to TVP, making sure all spices are blended. Let TVP hydrate for 5-10 minutes. Mix ground flax and water together, stir quickly and let sit 1 minute until mixture become gummy. Add ground flax mixture and chickpea flour to TVP and combine with you hands until mixture sticks together easily. Roll into mini sausage balls. To cook sausage, heat ½ tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat. Add sausages and cook until brown ~ 7-10 minutes. Set aside.
At this point, the polenta crust will be cooled and ready to bake. Stick in oven (that should be at 350ºF). Bake for 10-15 minutes until crust is golden.
For the béchamel sauce: Melt margarine in a small sauce pan and whisk in flour to make a roux. Cook ~ 1-2 minutes, but not until flour is brown. In a food processor, combine roux with remaining ingredients except nutmeg and white pepper. Blend until completely smooth and transfer mixture back to sauce pan. Heat over medium-high heat until sauce starts to bubble. Turn down heat to low and cook until it reaches consistency of Velveeta-like cheese. Stir in nutritional yeast, nutmeg and white pepper.
Assemble Pizza: Remove crust from over. With a spatula, pour ½ of béchamel sauce over polenta and spread evenly. Top with roasted veggies and sausage. Drizzle remaining sauce over top of pizza. Bake in oven another 10 minutes until sauce starts to brown slightly. Top with any other preferred toppings such as toasted pine nuts or vegan parmesan.