Appetizers

Polenta Stacks w/Ricotta, Zucchini, Red Onion, & Homemade Tomato Sauce

I love finger food.  Pretty sure that is now officially the nine-hundredth time I’ve said that.  But it’s true, I do… food on sticks, foods I can pick up and devour instantaneously, foods I can stack into piles.  I’m sure I could keep adding to the list, but I’ll stop at piles; I love piles.  Making little heaps of deliciousness equals a happy happy me. These towers of taste here resulted in smiles for days.
I wasn’t too huge of a polenta fan as a kid… I was never really sure exactly what the lump hiding under my marinara sauce was.  You know what I’m talking about… that dish all grandmas seem to love serving- a slab of cornmeal drowning in tomato goo.  I’ve never seen that eaten first on anyone’s plate.  Turns out with some love though, polenta can be pretty darn good.  Cornmeal on it’s own is no exciting thrill, but add a little flair and it can become pretty impressive stuff.  One of my fave go-to’s is polenta made with parmesan, rosemary, garlic, and red pepper along with some milk and chicken broth to make it smooth and creamy {I’m pretty sure I have that recipe on here actually… oh yes, here it is}.
Until this week, I had never bought pre-made polenta before.  Did you know it comes in a tube?  I’m a bit embarrassed I’ve never attempted these things before.  I mean, I am in the grocery store pretty much daily, have walked through all of the aisles eyeing every little nook and cranny for goodness, and have somehow always missed the polenta tubes.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never wanted one before- I always make it myself, so no tube has been needed.  Or maybe it’s because, let’s face it, food in a tube isn’t too appealing.  Food packaged in geometric shapes just doesn’t do it for me.  But I was strolling the aisle the other day and this thing caught my eye.  It was a tube of quinoa polenta.  What?  Huh?!  Am I so clueless about polenta or is this a new thing?  Either way, it excited me.  I took a gander at the ingredients thinking I was probably holding some crazy tube of things unpronounceable… but looked safe enough to me, so I held on and got inspired.  I recently nibbled on some little polenta piles at a local restaurant in SC (Avanti for those near).  It was drenched with mascarpone and zucchini… dreamy good.  And I had recently seen an image of some stacked polenta piles on Pinterest somewhere- they looked oh-so good… layers of zucchini and polenta rounds galore.  {I went back later to find that image so that I could credit the creator properly for the inspiration- it’s here from Bev Cooks… thanks, Bev!}  So I was dead-set on polenta piles now.  It was either succumb to the tube or go home and try to create my own rolled cylinder of quinoa-cornmeal; after a crazy day at work, there was no spending hours in the kitchen for me.  So the tube and I went home and I began crafting these little towers of tastiness.
If you’re like me, you have a plethora of tomatoes sitting around right now that you’re running out of ideas on how to use.  So I whipped up of my favorite go-to sauces… a simple tomato sauce with a touch of garlic and basil infused in.
This is the tube that tempted me; I’m no longer a tube-virgin.
Making your own is ideal, naturally… but sometimes we all have to be
human and get a little helping hand in the kitchen. :)
If you’re feeling ambitious though, here’s a how-to for making your own polenta tubes,
or you can use any polenta recipe you like and then
chill it in a cylindrical shape for a few hours until hardened.
{To read more about this particular quinoa polenta and for nutritional facts, click here.}
Here are the day’s pickings… I feel like every day, it’s
another humungo basket to harvest.
I am on a serious tomato-bender over here.  {Not complaining}
Makes 4 stacks
INGREDIENTS
for the sauce…
4 medium tomatoes, any kind
1 tbsp olive oil
3 basil leaves
3 garlic cloves
salt and pepper, about 1/4 tsp each
for the stacks…
polenta, 8 half-inch thick rounds (here’s what I used-Quinoa Polenta)
zucchini, 1 large or 2 small
1 small red onion
fresh ricotta cheese
olive oil, as needed
salt and pepper, to taste
basil leaves, for garnish
*note: I cooked the polenta two ways- pan-fried and baked.
I will show both methods below so you can choose the one that’s best for you.
Both are good, one is a touch “healthier” and one is a touch crispier :)
DIRECTIONS
For the tomato sauce…
Grab a few tomatoes, garlic cloves, and basil leaves
Start a pot of boiling water (no salting necessary)
Using a sharp knife, slice an “X” into the bottom of each tomato…
you don’t want to go too deep, just cut the skin
This will help the skins come off easier after boiling
Plop them in the boiling water
Let them cook for a few minutes, approx. 3
Then immediately cool them off by running cold water over them
Lay them out on a cutting board… you’ll notice that
their skins will be antsy to come off already
Using the “X” as guidance, peel back the skin of each tomato
Cut tomatoes in half
You should easily be able to remove most of the seeds with your fingers…
a little swipe through the pockets and that should do it
(You don’t have to be too anal about this process,
unless of course the seeds drive you nuts)
Give the tomatoes a rough chop and set aside while you prepare the garlic
Using the flat side of a large knife, smash each garlic clove and remove the peels
In a small pot (I used the same one I boil the tomatoes in), heat a tbsp or so
of olive oil over medium heat
Add smashed garlic cloves and basil leaves to the oil
Let them cook for just a few minutes, about 3, until lightly crisp and golden
Remove the garlic and basil from the oil and set aside
(because I am a freak about wasting food, and because garlic and
basil are like treasures to me, I keep them and use them for something else-
like chopped up on bread or in a side dish!)
The purpose of using them in this case is to infuse the oil with their flavors :)
Add the tomatoes to the oil
Add some salt and pepper, about 1/4 tsp each
Stir and let the sauce cook down over a low heat while you prepare the polenta stacks
It will eventually turn into this…
Once you’re ready to use, when stacks are assembled,
you can smooth it out a bit with a fork if you’d like…
this helps make it a bit more saucey
Taste and adjust seasonings as you wish :)
Then pour into a little bowl and you’re set!
(I use this basic sauce a lot… as a marinara-style dip, with pasta, over veggies, etc.)
For the polenta stacks…
Slice your polenta into about 1/2 inch thick rounds
I sliced 8 pieces because I wanted 4 stacks, 2 in each…
basically cut double the amount of stacks you want :)
For the pan-frying method of cooking polenta
(I mentioned above I would be showing two ways),
heat about 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan (I prefer cast-iron pretty much always)
Cook the polenta slices over a medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side,
until they are golden brown and crispy
(careful not to overload your pan- I did four at a time)
When done, remove from heat and set aside
(if you prefer, you can keep them warm in the oven while you prepare the rest)
The alternate way to prepare them is baking them…
To bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees
Lightly grease a baking sheet and then lay polenta slices out
Bake for about 12 -15 minutes, until hey are lightly golden and crisp
I cooked four in the pan and baked the other four in the oven- not a huge noticeable difference, just slightly more crunch on the pan-fried ones…
The ones on the left are pan-fried, the ones on the left are baked
Now on to the veggies…
Slice the zucchini into about 1/2 inch thick rounds
I used two different sized zucchinis just ’cause I had them- you certainly don’t have to :)
(I used the smaller zuke slices for the tops of the stacks and
the larger zuke slices for the bottoms,
but I’m a Libra, which means I’m a balancing freak)
If needed, add a touch more oil to the pan
(no need to even clean it unless it got filthy in the polenta cooking)
Again over medium heat, lay the zucchini slices down and
cook for a couple of minutes on each side, until golden brown
Sprinkle a little salt over them as they cook, just to season lightly
When they are done, remove from heat and set aside
Now the onion…
First cut off the ends (obvious, I know), but I say this because if you cut
 the ends off first, you’ll know which direction to cut in order to get circular rings :)
Slice the onion into about 1/4 inch thick rings…
you don’t need the whole onion, just a few slices
I wanted my onions to be about the same size as my zucchini slices (see, such a Libra),
so I removed the outer rings until I had the right size
While I used two polenta pieces and two zucchini slices per stack,
I only used one onion slice per stack, so four is just right!
(I didn’t want the onion to overpower)
In the same pan, replenish oil as needed and
then cook the onion slices for a couple of minutes on each side, until golden brown
Sprinkle a touch of salt to season
Alright, zucchini and onions are done…
All is cooked, you are ready to assemble!
Bring that ricotta cheese and tomato sauce into the picture now…
To assemble…
Lay four polenta rounds onto a plate/platter
Spread a little ricotta onto each- your call on how much :)
Then top it with the larger zucchini slices
Then top the zuke slices with a dollop of tomato sauce
Add the other polenta slices to that
Then more ricotta
Then onions
Lay the smaller zuke slices over that
And then top them off with a bit more tomato sauce
Finally, top it all off with a few basil leaves
You can serve these warm or at room-temp…
Enjoy!!

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About Me

Hi, I'm Natalie! I like to cook, eat, and adventure. I live in a little home with an itty-bitty kitchen, a crazy feline, and a very hungry boyfriend. Lots of cooking and devouring goes down here. Farmer's markets inspire me, as do the seasons and travel. I create simple recipes using wholesome real food. Enjoy!

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