In November, I tried a new recipe from Martha Stewart Living magazine, Tian Provencal with Polenta (find it in the November issue, or click the link to see the recipe on Martha's website). A tian is like a casserole, basically (the word can refer to a special pan used to make one, or to the food made in it). This tian involves a layer of cooked polenta (a thick pudding made with cornmeal, milk and water) layered underneath cheese and sliced vegetables. I was attracted to this recipe because of the above photo. My photo of it is not great (oh so dark in the kitchen this time of year), but I was drawn in by those roasted vegetables, brown with crispy cheese. And that gorgeous Liberty-esque fabric under the baking dish! It's so true that you eat with your eyes first. I gobbled this up.
The recipe called for quick-cooking polenta, made in a saucepan with water and milk and seasoned with salt and pepper. I like polenta but rarely cook it this way (I usually buy logs of precooked polenta that can be sliced and browned on a griddle). It was quick and easy to cook. When it was done, I spread it in an oiled baking dish (just a regular 9x13 Pyrex; I don't have any baking dishes like Martha's lovely oval pottery one). The oil in the dish already seemed excessive by this step, as it flooded over the surface of the polenta; I used substantially less oil throughout the rest of the steps than the recipe called for. It just didn't seem necessary to use so much.
Next, I layered veggies and grated cheese over the polenta. I used basic Swiss cheese, though the recipe called for Gruyere, specifically. I decided to use basic Swiss for two reasons: one, it was more economical, and two, it has a slightly milder flavor, which I thought would appeal to the children. More on that later...
The pan filled right up. I was feeling nervous about there being enough room, honestly. But I followed the directions, ending with a top layer of veggies without cheese, and put it into the oven for its first baking session.
After the first 30 minutes, you take it out of the oven and flatten the whole thing with a spatula, then sprinkle the last of the cheese on top and put it back in the oven for 35 minutes, to finish cooking and to melt and brown the cheese.
It was gorgeous when it came out of the oven! I loved how the roasted, cheesy vegetables looked, and it smelled delicious. You could smell the polenta too - it was like roasted corn - and you could see that it had started to brown a bit on the bottom of the pan. We tried spooning it onto plates, as directed in the recipe, but it was very soft and mushy. We decided to let it cool a few minutes and slice it instead...
So much easier to serve! It was more like a savory pie this way. We ate it with grilled chicken breasts. The Bear and I thought the tian was delicious. We had seconds and thirds! The children were much less enthusiastic, but they tried it and that's all I care about. (It was unfamiliar, full of vegetables and built on weird corn pudding, I can't really blame them). I will definitely try making this again because it was deceptively easy and it tasted great, plus it sort of took the place of separate starch and veggie dishes in a meal. It reheated very nicely for lunch the next day too. For next time, I think I'll cut down on the leeks a bit, and I'll use more tomato (I liked the acidity and I think it could benefit from more). I might also add some Parmesan cheese in the layers, or even in the polenta, for a little sharpness. But I did like it and it was nice to try something new and different. That's what this challenge is all about, after all. Just one more month to go and I will complete my very Martha year!