Slow-roasting tomatoes brings out their depth and sweetness, and if you could bottle the smell and sell it, you might make a million. Since the oven is on for hours, I suggest you prepare more tomatoes than you need for the polenta; use extra for sandwiches, bruschetta, pizza or pasta. The tomatoes disappear mysteriously from the kitchen as well. This combination of veggies offers a powerhouse of phytonutrients and vitamins, in a most palatable and beautiful way.
2 lb. 1-1/2" to 2" tomatoes like Campari or another smallish type, halved*
Small sprigs of seasonal fresh herbs — rosemary, thyme, basil, tarragon
2 or 3 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
6 slices (1" thick) of butternut or other firm, brightly coloured squash
2 tsp salt
1-3/4 cup cornmeal (I prefer the paler stoneground organic cornmeal for the polenta rather than the bright yellow stuff)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup Asiago, Romano or other hard Italian grating cheese plus extra for serving
18 spears asparagus, fibrous stems removed by snapping
18-24 Tuscan kale leaves, stems removed
* If you can't find Campari, substitute small Roma types or large grape varieties.
Step 1: Preheat oven to 200°F.
Step 2: Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, on a large parchment-covered cookie sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Tuck small herb leaves and a tiny sliver or two of garlic into each tomato half, and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Step 3: Oil the squash pieces. Wrap in foil and place on cookie sheet with tomatoes. Place cookie sheet in centre of the oven and cook for 1 hour.
Step 4: Check to ensure the tomatoes aren't drying up too quickly, then continue roasting them for up to 1-1/2 more hours. The squash should be tender by this time as well. (Tomatoes can be made a day or two ahead — allow them to cool, then refrigerate.)
Step 5: To prepare the polenta, bring 6 cups water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add salt, then gradually whisk in cornmeal. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring regularly, until mixture thickens and cornmeal is tender — about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese, combining well.
Step 6: As you cook the polenta, steam the asparagus and the kale in very little water in a covered frying pan until both veggies are tender but still brightly coloured. Drain, and assemble plate: spoon polenta onto pre-warmed platter, flattening it a little, then drape kale leaves around polenta, and arrange roasted tomatoes, squash and asparagus spears artfully on the platter. Top with more cheese if desired.
Cleanup tip: To prevent a lot of scrubbing, soak the polenta pot immediately in cold water. Any stuck polenta will come away easily in a few hours.
See more recipes from Sharon Hanna.
Reprinted with permission from Sharon Hanna's The Book of Kale (2012 Harbour Publishing).