This year we were going to have a guest speaker, Jesse Cool, a well-known restaurateur and cookbook author, come to the cookbook night. She was on the vanguard of vegetarian and organic food movement, so we decided we would all cook a dish from one of her cookbooks. Jesse couldn’t make it and no one said anything, but we all showed up with vegetarian dishes. Funny how collective consciousness works!
My contribution was this vegetable tart from one of my all time favorite cookbooks, Flavors by Pamela Morgan. What’s unusual about this tart is it has a polenta crust, which adds a distinctive taste and texture. I’d like to say it makes it less fattening but with 3 cups of cheese, I’d have to cross my fingers behind my back. The deep flavors of the roasted eggplant and mushrooms and caramelized onions combine with the polenta and cheese to make a sensational vegetarian dish. Here’s to reading and eating with wonderful friends!
Polenta-Crusted Roasted Vegetable Tart
Ingredients for Tart
Serves 8-10 as a first course, 6 as a main course
2 small Japanese eggplants, cut in half then lengthwise and into 3/4-inch strips
2 large portobello mushrooms caps, cut in half then into 3/4-inch strips
3 fresh plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise and cut into 3/4-inch strips
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, reconstituted and chopped
5 tbls. olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 cups water
1 cup plus, 1 tbls. polenta
1 heaping tbls. finely chopped rosemary
1 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 tbls. hot chili oil
Ingredients for Caramelized Onions
3 tbls. olive oil
4 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. herbes de Provence, optional
In a large heavy skillet over medium low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions sugar, salt and herbs if using. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. While the onions are caramelizing, roast the vegetables, reconstitute the sundried tomatoes and shred the cheese.
Position rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and lightly spray with olive oil. Arrange the eggplant, portobello mushrooms and tomato slices and drizzle with 5 tbls. of olive oil. Season with salt. Working in batches if necessary, roast the vegetables in the oven, turning them once until light browned and tender, about 15-20 minutes, cool to room temperature. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Shred cheese in a bowl and then mix the Gruyere and Monterey Jack cheeses together. Spray olive oil to coat a 10-inch diameter, 2-inch deep fluted quiche pan with a removable bottom. Reconstitute the sundried tomatoes with hot water. Drain, chop and set aside.
In small, heavy saucepan over high heat, bring the water to boil. Stir in 1 1/2 tsp. salt. Gradually whisk in polenta. Stir in the rosemary. Lower the heat and cook gently, uncovered, stirring often until very thick, 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat and add ½ cup of the mixed cheeses and a generous grinding of pepper to the hot polenta. Stir well and let cool a bit. Spoon the hot polenta into the greased quiche pan. Using a spatula, spread it over the bottom and up the sides to form a shell about 1/2-inch thick (or I put medical plastic gloves on and cover them with a bit of oil, which makes it easier to get the polenta up the sides of the pan; just be careful the polenta is not too hot to handle). Brush the inside of the shell with the chili oil. Place a large sheet of aluminum foil on the polenta and pour in weighted pastry stones. Set the pan on a baking sheet and put in the oven. Bake until the shell has firmed and is lightly browned, about 30 minutes (check it after 20 minutes and cook 5 more minutes at a time until it’s thoroughly cooked and light brown).
Transfer the pan to a work surface. Scatter 1/2 cup of the mixed cheeses over the bottom of the shell. Spread the caramelized onions over the cheese. Scatter another 1/2 cup cheese over the onions. Arrange half of the eggplant, tomato and mushroom strips in a spoke fashion. Scatter the remaining 1 cup of cheese over the vegetables. Decorate the top layer by putting the chopped sundried tomatoes in the middle and with the remaining eggplant, tomatoes and mushrooms create another spoke pattern.
Return tart to oven and bake until the cheeses are melted, 30-40 minutes until the cheese is bubbling. Cool on a rack. With a small knife, carefully release the sides of the quick pan. Remove the sides and cut the tart into wedges. Serve at room temperature or re-warm the tart at 300 degrees if desired.
Tips and Tidbits
This is a somewhat time-intensive dish, taking about and hour and a half to make if you’re efficient. There’s nothing particularly complicated, it just takes time to roast the veggies, caramelize the onions, and make and bake the polenta shell. If the response from the group last night was any indication, it’s worth the effort!