Ahh, pretty no? I had to stop and take a moment while I was prepping the veg for this dish. The leftovers caught my eye. Those autumnal colours do brighten up a chilly January kitchen.
One last blog before I skip off to Portugal tomorrow for sun, sea and as many of those delicious little custard tarts as I can cram into my greedy little suitcase. Delish!
I've been experimenting with vegetarian dishes recently, partly to take advantage of all the lovely winter vegetables around, and partly because I seem to be having rather a lot of vegetarians over for dinner. I hadn't realised quite how much I rely on fish to be the centrepiece of a meal until I was tasked with avoiding it. I like that this polenta has drama in the vivid colours of the squash, rocket and beetroot. And having the lot laid out on a board makes it feel more casual, which is right for the kind of meal that I have with close friends.
I used the Crown Prince variety of squash for this, which hides a wonderful surprise. Below the misleadingly drab blue-grey skin it has vibrant orange flesh, really beautiful. The black pepper and parmesan crisps scattered on top aren't strictly necessary but they add crunch and intense little bursts of flavour.
POLENTA, ROASTED VEGETABLES AND PEPPERED PARMESAN CRISPS
~ for the roasted vegetables
1 small Crown Prince squash (about 450g)
3 raw beetroot (about 200g)
2 small red onions
3 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
~ for the polenta
200g fine polenta
1 litre water
1/2 tsp salt
65g grated cheese (I used a 50/50 mix of parmesan and taleggio)
a pinch of ground white pepper
~ for the parmesan crisps
50g grated parmesan
a very large pinch of black pepper
a big handful of rocket (arugula)
2 tsp of fresh picked thyme leaves
1) Start with the roasted vegetables: Peel the squash and chop into cubes roughly 2x2cm, then wash the beetroot and chop into similarly sized chunks. Toss in the lemon juice and oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, and bake in a roasting tin for 20 minutes at 425f/220c/gas mark 7, then chop the onions into slim wedges and continue to bake for a further 25 minutes.
2) While the vegetables are cooking get on with the polenta by bringing the water, salt and half the butter to a simmer in a large pot, then slowly adding the polenta in a fine stream, stirring all the time. Continue to simmer over a low heat for 35 minutes, stirring often to prevent it sticking to the bottom. The polenta should be thickened but still soft at this point. If it starts to dry out too much, add a cup of water. When cooked, stir through the rest of the butter, the cheese and the white pepper.
3) To make the crisps, scatter the grated parmesan evenly over a silicone sheet, or lightly oiled greaseproof paper, and bake at 400f/200c/gas mark 6 for 5 minutes, until golden but not browned. After cooling for five minutes, crumble into crisp pieces with your fingers.
4) To serve, spoon the polenta over a board (or onto plates), scatter over the vegetables and any roasting juices, then the rocket and thyme. Tuck the parmesan crisps in between the veg, and eat while hot or warm.