With an eggplant, zucchini and bell pepper in the fridge the other day, I couldn’t
help but think of ratatouille. Since I couldn’t justify another trip to the market, canned tomato sauce would have to suffice to complete the traditional four-fecta of produce in the dish.
I wanted to make a meal of it, so I opented up the pantry. Hmm polenta…That sounds a big bowl of mush, unless…yes, I could make some firm squares and pan-fry the outsides. Althought I didn’t have success in my first crisp polenta attempt this summer…
I’ve since found the proper 3-1 ratio of liquid to dry polenta, and I haven’t had any similar fails. (I’ll note that the polenta in that photo, while melted out of its square shapes, ended up with a most pleasant grill flavor.)
Serving an untraditional ratatouille with polenta, of all things, is a departure from the French spirit of honoring culinary tradition, but a Google search shows I’m not the first to have bastardized a classic in this way. Yet when it works so deliciously, why fight it?
Ratatouille over Crisp Polenta Squares
There are so many methods for both ratatouille and polenta, and I don’t claim any special knowledge on either. But it’s easy to make a tasty meal using some basic ideas. This was my general process. I encourage you to improvise your own version.
- 1 cup polenta
- 3 cups water
- some butter and/or grated Parmesan
- oil for pan-frying
In a pot over high heat, whisk polenta, water and some salt until it is brought to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and keep stirring until water is fully absorbed and polenta has thickened, about 5-10 minutes when you’re only cooking this much. (I usually switch to a spoon or spatula at some point.) Stir in butter and/or cheese to richen up the flavor.
Spread in a small pan, so the polenta is about a half-inch thick. Allow to cool and solidify completely. Then cut into squares and pan-fry with a little oil until each side is crisp and the inside is hot.
- 1 large zucchini
- 1 small eggplant
- 1 red bell pepper
- fresh or canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
- 2 cloves garlic
- fresh or dried herbs of provence (thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, savory and/or rosemary are good additions)
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400. Slice vegetables in even thickness and layer in a baking dish of some sort. (I used a silicone cake pan because it’s all I had.) Season with salt and pepper. Add minced garlic and herbs. Cover with tomato sauce, or sliced tomatoes keeping as much juice as possible. Some more salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender, 20-30 minutes. I prefer them not like mush.
Spoon over polenta squares and serve. Ratatouille serves two, with some leftover polenta.