Dispatches From Whitcomb Street

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polenta tart with zucchini and tomatoes

Sometimes you have beautiful late-summer produce that begs to be barely cooked and set off in some sort of lovely frame. You dream about rough-puff doughs, pate brisees, phyllos. You look at the thermometer and mop your brow and abandon the thought of turning on the oven. So you make a “tart” in a polenta crust instead.

Polenta, we hail thee. Is there anything you can’t do?

Polenta tart with zucchini and tomatoes

This is not really a recipe; it’s more a collection of ideas. You can flavor the polenta base with whatever you want and fill it more or less with whatever you want. Here, you get a big sweet corn note against concentrated tomato and squash flavors.

Make some sturdy, stiff polenta: Bring 7 parts water to a boil. Add salt and 2 parts stone-ground polenta (for a 12” tart tin, I used 3.5 cups of water and 1 cup of polenta). Stir until it starts sputtering; turn down the heat very low and cook uncovered, stirring often, until the individual grits are tender, about 15 minutes.

Add flavorings: I put thyme and some grated Parm in mine. Spread the polenta in a well-oiled tart tin with a removable bottom (or a springform pan). Build a slight rim around the sides by pushing the grits up them.

Put the shell in the fridge to chill; store for up to a day. After half an hour, the shell should be firm and cohesive; check by pushing slightly on the tart tin’s bottom and seeing if the polenta pulls away in one firm mass.

Prepare your toppings: mince a couple cloves of garlic; grate some Parm; strip some thyme; salt some sliced heirloom tomatoes and young zucchini cut into ribbons and let them drain for at least twenty minutes. Blot the tomatoes and squash as dry as possible.

Once the shell is firm, oil the top lightly and put it under a low broiler, about 6” away from the flame. Your goal is to brown the top slightly, dry it out, and warm the corn through. Spread some good, sweet ricotta thinly on top along with some garlic and herbs.

Pile on your tomatoes and then your squash. Drizzle with olive oil, more Parm, and pepper. 

Turn your broiler to high and slide the tart back under. Let it cook for six or seven minutes, or until the zucchini has started to wilt, the tomatoes are bubbling, and the cheese is starting to blister brown. Let rest for four or five minutes before breaking in.

Ideas: Spread polenta with goat cheese, caramelized onions, and wilted chard or beet greens. Or slices of eggplant and some good mozz. Or potatoes, blue cheese, and walnuts. Burrata and squash blossoms. Basically, any combination of dry-ish, soft toppings that would work on a pizza. 

OR go sweet: Lightly sweeten the polenta base and fill it with fresh berries and marscapone (no need to cook it). Or nectarines and goat cheese; put it under the broiler just to blister the fruit a little. Figs and honey. Rosemary and lemon curd. OMG.

  1. triflingdetails said: This looks really amazing. I have some zucchini in my fridge that I want to serve as pasta - how do you make ribbons like this? I’ve only ever used a grater. Is there a more elegant way?
  2. whitcombstreet posted this
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