Thursday, March 4, 2010

Polenta Hodgepodge Pie

Grits get a bad rap. I admit to having poor misconceptions about any kind of “meal” or mush growing up. I couldn’t do oatmeal and the mere sound of the name “grits” gave me a wide-eyed upchuck impulse. Then I discovered a much nicer name for corn grits that made the dish sound fancy and international….polenta. An Italian comfort food sounds more appetizing to me than something that sounds like the texture of sandy mud. I certainly don’t want to put sandy mud in my mouth, but I won’t judge others. Luckily, polenta has given me a whole new perspective on a widely cherished food in both Italy and the south.

My first experimentation with polenta, beyond just buying a tube at the food store, was highly fascinating: whisking boiling water vigorously as the cornmeal is poured in slowly to reduce chewy globs (it will happen to you at least once, I promise), then switching to a whole different cooking utensil as it takes on a completely new texture! It was an inspiring transformation and tasted delicious. In the end though, it was still a pile of mush. It took me a while to figure out how to play with it in order to get the fancy tube shapes sold at the market. After much exploration, I’m 100% convinced that there is no limit with what you can do with polenta.

As I’ve continued my journey through a more health-conscious, vegan life, polenta has been a fabulously satisfying grain: relatively low in calories for the volume you can get out of it. And because of its mystical morphing into a sticky but sturdy substance during the cooking process, it serves as a great source for brainstorming. Why not use it as a pizza crust? How about a pie base or shepherd’s pie-like topping? Or a pedestal for other delicious foods? While this recipe is labeled as a pie, it’s more like a platform. And the ingredients on top…well that’s where the hodgepodge part comes in.

Almost any roasted or sautéed vegetable(s) would work as the middle layer for this pie: eggplant, zucchini, pearl onions, or cruciferous crunchies, whatever you’d like. You could even play around with the coulis or sauce that you whip up to pour over it. As always, you can certainly toy with the seasonings, shapes or cooking methods of the tofu topping. There is plenty of freedom and room for creativity here. Unless you end up with the clumpy globs…then you’ll really have a hodgepodge to deal with.

Polenta Hodgepodge Pie
Serves: 2
Cook time: 45 minutes


Roasted Vegetables
½ T. Olive oil
4-5 Fingerling potatoes, cut into smaller chunks
½ c. Leeks, sliced
¾ c. Green beans, cut into ½ - 1” pieces
Salt and pepper to taste

½ T. Olive oil
¼ Medium onion, diced
1 Large garlic cloves, minced
5-6 Sun dried tomatoes, rehydrated (if not packed in oil) and chopped
½ tsp Rosemary, dried
½ tsp Salt
2 c. Water
½ c. Polenta
2 T. Nutritional Yeast
Salt and Pepper to taste

6 oz. Tofu, cut into 2x2” squares
1 T. Cornstarch
½ tsp Basil, dried
½ tsp Tarragon, dried
½ tsp Salt
1 T. Canola Oil

Tomato Sauce
1 Medium tomato, chopped (about 1 c.)
2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 425ºF. In a medium bowl, toss potatoes and leeks in olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes.

While the potatoes roast, make the polenta. Sauté onions in olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, sun dried tomatoes, rosemary and salt. Stir and cook until garlic becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. Increase heat to high and add water. Bring to a boil and once the water is boiling, slowly pour in the polenta, stirring vigorously with a whisk to avoid clumps. Turn heat to low and let polenta cook at a slow simmer. Switching to a wood spoon or spatula, keep stirring the polenta until tender, about 8-10 minutes. When done the polenta will be slightly sticky and pull away from the pan. Remove from heat and stir in nutritional yeast, salt and pepper to taste. While still hot, pour polenta into a 6” spring form pan and spread evenly. Let cool at room temperature while you prepare the tofu.

Back to the potatoes: remove the potatoes from the oven and stir in the green beans. Put vegetables back in oven and roast an additional 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are brown and beans have a slight crisp. Remove from oven and set aside.

Drain, rinse and pat tofu dry. In a bowl, mix cornstarch, herbs and salt. Dredge tofu in cornstarch and set on a small plate. In a medium skillet, heat canola oil over medium-high heat in a skillet. Add tofu and fry until crispy on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from heat and return to plate.

To make the tomato sauce, puree the tomato and vinegar in a food processor until completely smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Assemble the pie: pour the roasted veggies on top of the polenta base. Spread the tomato sauce in dollops over the veggies and top with crispy tofu. Remove outside of spring form pan and voila! Hodgepodge pie.

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