Remember last Friday? I wrote a post that was essentially a love letter to the concept of the ‘restorative weekend’. I need to come clean.
I had every intention of taking last Friday off. I wanted to step away from the computer and just feel like I was feeding myself in ways other than recipe writing and Twitter updates. The reality is, I spent half of the day off, and the other half of the day freaking out about not working hard enough, and… trying to sneak in a bit of work. I finished the day feeling like I had done a bad job at both relaxing and working hard. The worst.
Wait… I’m not complaining. What kind of ingrate complains about taking a day off of work? What I’m trying to say is this: I have a problem. Sometimes I feel like I can’t enjoy stepping away from work because everything keeps spinning without my contribution to the spin. If I’m not contributing to the spin… then aaahhhAAAHHHHaaahh (that’s what it feels like on the inside).
What I’ve discovered is this: I’m a work in progress… especially when it comes to winding down, unplugging, and turning the volume down to low. I’m ok with that.
Ps. This isn’t one of those humblebrags wherein I lament about that fact that I’m just too hardworking. No way. Not at all. There’s a difference between being hardworking and being productive. I am the former, I’m working on the tweaking the latter.
Maybe this is all a lesson in taking it easy.
Maybe the real name of this blog is: Joy the baker , five years of food and figuring it all out.
Polenta helps, as does your grace and understanding.
I want to live in a world where I can put most everything in the oven and have it come out better than I could have made it on the stovetop. This is that.
All we’re starting with is water, coarse cornmeal, and salt. It’s the start of the most delicious gruel we’ll ever enjoy.
While the polenta is in the oven, we whip up the tomato sauce topping.
One can of good-quality San Marzano tomatoes meets butter and onion halves. It’s that simple. These three ingredients cook down together for 40 minutes and transform into a rich and comforting sauce. With a bit of salt and pepper, I’m amazed at how rich and flavorful this topping is.
After 45 minutes of baking, the polenta will be loose but still in progress.
Stirring butter into the cooking polenta will be a start to the creaminess. More baking to follow.
The finished baked polenta is firm, creamy, and completely irresistible.
Cheese and crushed red pepper flakes are just icing on the cake… so to speak.
Warm baked polenta meets nice and simmered chunky tomato sauce.
This dish is as comforting as macaroni and cheese, lasagna with extra cheese, and as comforting as splurging on 4 slices of pizza. It’s a big bowl of love and comfort.
I love this weeknight meal. It comes together in the oven and off of the stovetop… all simultaneous-like. It’s warm and wintery and profoundly comforting. Use this recipe as a base. Maybe you want to add grilled sausage. Maybe roasted eggplant is your thing. How about carmelized onions? Yes….
Other things I like to put in the oven: Risotto! Lemon Baked Risotto is such a revelation. It’s a blessing. Most seriously!
Other things I’ve baked in the family-worn 8×8-inch pan: Brownies! Triple Chocolate Black Bean Brownies.
You should know… I ate two bowls of this baked polenta. Alone. Sitting on a stool in the middle of the afternoon.
Baked Polenta with Tomato and Basil
makes 4 servings
For the Polenta:
4 cups water
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the Tomato Basil topping:
1 (28-ounce) can whole and peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 onion, peeled and sliced in half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
Parmesan cheese for topping
Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In an 8×8-inch baking sheet, or a 2 qt baking dish, stir together water, coarse cornmeal, and salt. Stir to combine. The cornmeal will sink to the bottom of the pan and the water will turn a bit cloudy. Place in the oven to bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and add butter. Stir until butter is melted. Return to the oven to bake for 15 minutes.
Polenta will have a dry top and not jiggle when fully baked. Remove from the oven and stir in red pepper flakes and cheese. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.
While the polenta bakes, cook the tomato sauce.
In a medium saucepan combine entire can of tomatoes, juice and all. Add butter and onion halves. Keep the onion halves in tact, we want to be able to easily remove the onion at the end of cooking.
Place the pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The butter will melt and create glistening beads on top of the tomato sauce. The whole tomatoes will bread down, but still maintain just a bit of their tomato chunkyness. The sauce will thicken as it cooks down. After the sauce has cooked down, remove the onion halves and discard.
Remove from heat and gently spoon onto cooked polenta. Top with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. Serve warm.