This earthy-sweet spread is essentially roasted eggplant, red peppers, red onion and garlic that you put in a food processor with a dab of tomato paste. The easy, hard-to-screw-up Ina Garten recipe never fails to please both me and a crowd. And judging by how many servings I can eat, sometimes I am the crowd. (I'm thinking my portion-control issues may stem from a traumatic childhood math test. Yeah, let’s go with that.)
I usually serve this spread with my Cheater’s Lavash Crackers, but for an L.A. food blogger's meet-up, I got
all show-offey ambitious and presented it on round pillows of polenta. You can see my stiff competition here at the terrific blog, Cook and Be Merry.
I would avoid buying those packaged tubes of polenta since they don't taste very fresh, and it's easy enough to make your own rounds. I formed these with a biscuit cutter, but the clever Andrea, of Fork, Fingers, Chopsticks, shows you how to make your own tube in a can. I actually kind of enjoyed this biscuit-cutter polenta activity. In fact, it was only a corn cob away from being fun. But then I don’t get out of the kitchen much.
1 medium eggplant
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Fresh basil leaves and pine nuts for garnish (my personal addition)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the eggplant, bell pepper, and onion into 1-inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking. Cool slightly.
Place the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the tomato paste, and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Taste for salt and pepper.
Yield 6 to 8 servings
8 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups polenta
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup of asiago cheese
In a heavy saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil and gradually whisk in cornmeal. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until very thick, about 15 minutes. Towards the end, add the butter and cheese. When melted, pour polenta into a 9 x 13 glass pan so the polenta is about 1 ½ - 2 inches deep. There will still be more polenta left, so put the rest in a smaller pan (just eyeball one that will fit). Let polenta cool completely, then refrigerate until firm.
Using a 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter, cut out rounds (try to maximize the number by cutting them out close to each other). Place the rounds in a 400º oven and bake until firmer and a bit crunchy. The refrigeration and oven steps are optional if you want a softer polenta and to serve it sooner. It can be served warm or at room temperature. Garnish each polenta and eggplant round with a small basil leaf and a couple of pine nuts.
Makes 20+ rounds with spread. (In other words, there's polenty to go a round.)