Heirloom tomatoes have been in the stores now for a month or so. But it’s when they start showing up at the farmer’s markets that you know they’re going to be amazing. I found my first little baskets of these beauties this week, and I envisioned this Polenta Tart with Heirloom Tomatoes right on the spot.
This is a fun dish to make and serve, it takes hardly any effort, but has a lot of presence. It would be a great light alfresco lunch with a green salad and a glass of wine, or a beautiful centerpiece on a summer buffet table.
Polenta is such an easy dish to make, and I love how well it cooperates with you—it happily takes on any shape you choose. It pops right out of the springform pan and makes a perfect base for these tomatoes.
The tomato topping is basically just a form of the Italian ‘cecca’ sauce, which is an uncooked tomato sauce made with ripe tomatoes, a little garlic, basil, and olive oil. I add a little white wine vinegar for a pop of flavor. It’s great over pasta or on toasted bread, too.
The keys to success with this dish are one, to season the polenta really well with butter and good quality cheese, and to use fresh ripe tomatoes. The nice thing about this is that you can throw it together easily on a day when you happen to come across spectacular tomatoes. You should always have a package of polenta in your cupboard and Parmesan cheese in the fridge anyway, so you should be good to go.
- 2 cups polenta (stone ground yellow corn meal)
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups milk (I used reduced fat)
- 1 tsp salt
- fresh cracked pepper
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 generous pint multicolored cherry tomatoes
- 1 medium heirloom tomato (pick a pretty color!)
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 or 2 tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
- salt and black pepper to taste
- about 10 large basil leaves, cut in fine ribbons
- more Parmesan cheese for garnishing
- Bring the water, milk and salt to a boil in a heavy bottomed pot. Slowly add in the polenta, stirring to avoid lumps. Lower the heat and let it cook gently for about 15 minutes. You will have to stir it most of the time. I like to use a silicone spatula. Be careful because the polenta with splatter as it bubbles, and it's hot.
- Take it off the heat and add the butter and the cheese. Mix well. Add some fresh cracked black pepper, and then taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
- Pour the polenta into a greased 9" springform pan. (Note: I did not use quite all of the polenta because I didn't want my tart to be too thick.) Smooth it out quickly so the top is level. The polenta will begin to set up immediately. Let the polenta cool. You can remove it from the pan and then refrigerate it if you are not going to serve it shortly.
- Meanwhile make the tomato topping. Do this no more than one hour before you want to serve the tart. Slice your cherry tomatoes in half. You can cut the larger ones in wedges, and leave the very tiniest ones whole. Chop the regular sized tomato in small chunks. Put them in a bowl with all the juices and add the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper.
- Let the tomatoes sit at room temperature to allow the juices to flow and mingle for up to an hour. Just before you are ready to put the tart together, chop the basil and add it to the tomatoes. (Don't do this earlier or the basil may turn dark)
- Just before you are ready to serve it, put the polenta tart on a platter or large plate. Spoon the tomatoes and their juices on top of the polenta. Don't worry if some fall off the side onto the plate, this is supposed to be a rustic dish. Garnish with some more basil leaves and sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese.
- Slice with a sharp knife and serve with more cheese.
Notes: This is meant to be served at room temperature, or slightly chilled. Assemble your tomato topping about an hour before serving. You can make the polenta base ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator, but tomatoes don’t do well in the fridge, and you want them to be as fresh as possible.
Aren’t tomatoes grand??