This light, colorful vegetarian weeknight dinner is a favorite, inspired by my annual visits to my “boot camp” Rancho la Puerta in Tecate, Mexico. This soothing, comfort-food dinner knows few rivals, particularly in cold weather.
A 1-quart (1 l) gratin dish, 4 warmed dinner plates.
3 cups (750 ml) 1 % milk
1/2 cup (125 ml) light cream or half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup (135 g) instant polenta
1/2 cup (90 g) freshly grated Swiss Gruyère cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 large onion, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into thin half-rounds
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
One 28-ounce (794 g) can peeled Italian plum tomatoes in juice
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
Fresh, flat-leafed parsley leaves, for garnish
1. In a large saucepan, bring the milk, cream, 1 teaspoon of the sea salt, and the nutmeg to a boil over medium heat. (Watch carefully, for milk will boil over quickly.) Add the polenta in a steady stream and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the mixture begins to thicken, about 3 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat. Add half of the cheese, stirring to blend thoroughly. The polenta should be very creamy and pourable. Pour it into the gratin dish. Even out the top with a spatula. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to firm up. (Or store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.)
3. Prepare the tomato garnish: In a large skillet, combine the onion, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and sweat – cook, covered over low heat until soft and translucent – about 5 minutes. With a large pair of scissors, cut the tomatoes in the can into small pieces. Add the bay leaves and tomatoes and their juices and cook, covered, over low heat for about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
4. At serving time, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet until hot but not smoking. Cut the polenta into 8 even squares. Sear each square on both sides until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the squares to the warmed plates, stacking the second slice at an angle over the first. Spoon the sauce all over. Garnish with parsley and cheese.
An inexpensive everyday dish suggests an equally fine but gently priced wine. A favorite is Michel and Stephane Ogier’s La Rosine Syrah, a deep purple vin de pays from the hillsides north of the old Roman town of Vienne.
MAKE AHEAD NOTE
Both the tomato sauce and the polenta can be prepared up to 3 days in advance, then covered and refrigerated separately. Reheat at serving time.
When using whole, canned tomatoes, use a scissors to cut the tomatoes into small pieces, making for a still chunky yet finer
This recipe was first published in The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence.
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