Every now and then, I like to try something different. Most nights, I come home from work and make tried and true recipes, like couscous with zucchini, or sweet potato and black bean tacos. It’s nice not having to meticulously follow a recipe, or scour the cabinets for ingredients.
However, when I saw this recipe for Tomato Basil Sauce and Polenta in the June 2012 issue of Bon Appetit, I knew I had to try it. The recipe combined many of my favorite ingredients, and I was also intrigued by the cooking process: To make the sauce, I would have to create a basket out of parchment paper.
I had never done this before, and frankly, I was a bit nervous at the prospect of cooking a sauce in paper. Already, I have a love-hate relationship with the parchment paper roll, as it always seems to uncurl and spiral out of control when I’m ripping out a sheet. There has to be a better way!!
But also, I knew that if I mastered this technique, it could open up a whole new way of cooking for me; I could move on to bigger things like oven-roasted fish, or even Dutch Apple Pie (believe it or not, you also can make this in a paper bag).
When I was reading the recipe, I somehow didn’t notice the half-page sidebar telling me to turn to page 109 for paper folding techniques. After searching for YouTube videos with step-by-step paper basket-making processes, I gave up. I placed the tomato-basil mixture on one half of the paper, and folded the two 12″ sides together.
Then, I crimped the wider edges (24″) so the paper ressembled a little package. I hoped for the best, but expected the worst…I was happy that the whole package sat on a metal baking sheet (in case of any explosions).
Luckily, my folding techniques worked, and when I opened the paper basket post-baking, a cloud of steam emerged. The garlic, basil, and tomatoes all melded together to create a rich, fragrant sauce, and I found myself sopping up the juice with bread. Honestly, I could have eaten the sauce alone, but the polenta cakes provided a nice, neutral base.
I wasn’t crazy about the polenta cake’s texture (the outside tasted a little too crisp, and the inside was a little too grainy), but overall I thought the corn flavor worked well with the tomato-basil sauce. Grilled polenta might taste better than oven-baked, and if you really have an aversion to all things polenta, you can substitute pasta, couscous, or another grain-base. The sauce would even taste good with fish or meat.
Polenta Cakes with Tomato Basil Sauce (from June 2012 Bon Appetit)
•5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
•1 16- to 18-ounce packaged cooked polenta log, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
•2 pounds cherry tomatoes (about 6 cups)
•7 garlic cloves, minced
•1 shallot, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
•2 teaspoons kosher salt
•1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
•8 large sprigs basil
•Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 425°.
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and brush with 1 Tbsp. oil.
Arrange polenta rounds on oiled sheet.
•Very coarsely chop (do not purée) half the tomatoes in a food
processor. Cut remaining tomatoes in half (quarter if large). Combine
tomatoes in a bowl with 4 Tbsp. oil and remaining ingredients. Toss to
•Stack three 24×12″ sheets of parchment paper on another baking sheet.
(Don’t use foil—the tomato acid will react with aluminum.) Spoon
tomato mixture onto one side of stacked parchment. Fold parchment
layers over mixture and crimp edges tightly to form a sealed packet.
•Place baking sheet with tomato packet on upper rack and sheet with
polenta on lower rack. Bake, turning polenta rounds once, until
polenta is light golden and tomatoes are saucy, 25–30 minutes. (You
can also cook polenta in a grill pan or on a charcoal or gas grill.)
•Spoon tomato sauce over polenta and serve.