Long time since my last recipe thanks to lots of skating and lots of experimentation with this polenta torte! In February my husband and I ate at the hippie-rustic Tweets Cafe in Edison, WA. His lunch was a baked square of polenta torte which arrived set amidst a full plate of savory black beans, topped with slices of roasted beets and sweet potatoes and filled with a middle layer of tangy, soft farmstead cheese and roasted carrots (maybe onions, too?). It was memorable enough to inspire quite a few polenta tortes in my kitchen, finally settling on this version with a pesto layer, a vegan nut-based ‘cheese’ layer, and lots of caramelized onions.
It’s best made ahead, cooled and set in the springform pan to use the next day, but you can use it soon out of the oven if you like. It would likely be even better with a soft dairy cheese in the middle and parmesan in the basil and the polenta, but the nut-based ‘cheese’ is a a healthy, vegan substitute for our day-to-day cooking. My husband really likes it. My son thinks I should omit the sharp apple cider vinegar in the ‘cheese’ so the pesto flavor can stand out more and he may be right– more experiments may lie ahead.
For my last few versions I used De La Estancia polenta, made from higher protein, lower starch flint corn from Argentina. It is very bright yellow, smooth, creamy, and cooks in one or two minutes though it is not ‘instant’ polenta. I have no business connection with the company but learned about their product by meeting the producer years ago at a food fair. I like regular polenta, well, except for the stirring, but I prefer La Estancia despite its higher price. Here in Puget Sound I buy it at PCC co-op, I’m not sure what other stores have it though you can buy it online.
Happy cooking! And if you come up with your own version of polenta torte let me know in the comments!
- For the caramelized onions:
- 2 large onions, chopped (about 1½# of onions)
- 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- For the pesto:
- 5 oz. basil leaves (2½ cups very tightly packed whole leaves). This is about the amount of leaves you get from two 4 oz. packages of basil packed with the stems and leaves)
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- ½ tsp. salt
- For the 'cheese' layer, blend in a high-powered blender:
- 1 cup macadamia nuts and 1 cup pine nuts (or 2 cups of either one)
- 2 Tbsp. mellow white or chickpea miso (any light miso)
- juice of 2 small or one extra large lemon (about 4 Tbsp.)
- ½ tsp. yogurt starter (powder)
- For the polenta:
- 5½ cups water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1½ cups coarse polenta
- (caramelized onions)
- To grease the pan:
- 1 tsp olive oil
- Chop the onions, put in a large frying pan with the olive oil, begin slowly caramelizing them at a low heat on the stove. It will take about 40 minutes on a gas stove, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, pick the leaves off the basil stems, measure, combine in blender or food processor with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt. Process until combined with a medium texture.
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Make the vegan 'cheese' by combining the macadamia and/or pine nuts, miso, lemon juice and yogurt starter in a high-powered blender. Stir with tamper (for a Vitamix) or stop the blender and scrape down the sides a few times to get the mixture smooth.
- Prepare springform pan by greasing it with olive oil.
- Bring water and salt to a boil, add polenta. If you are using La Estancia polenta, stir for 2 minutes. If you are using regular polenta, stir for five minutes, then simmer, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for about 30 minutes until polenta is soft.
- Stir caramelized onions into polenta.
- Put half of the polenta into the springform pan.
- Add the pesto layer, then the 'cheese' layer.
- Top with the second half of the polenta.
- Bake until firm, about 40-50 minutes.
- Let stand for at least 20 minutes in the springform pan after baking to let the torte set (longer is better). Or cool and save to unmold and re-heat later.
- Unmold and serve.