Here in Santa Barbara, where the sixth month of the year is affectionately known as June Gloom, the days often are overcast until 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. and the temperatures hover in the low-mid-60s until the sun makes its long overdue appearance. Despite the weather, the Farmers Market is already bursting with summer fruits and vegetables, many of which are ideal for comforting dinner fare, hearty but not heavy. Last summer, I tried a Melissa Clark recipe that appeared in the Wall Street Journal as well as her book, Cook This Now: Fresh Corn Polenta with Roasted Ratatouille and Ricotta. Melissa’s dish provided the inspiration for Parmesan and Corn Polenta with Roasted Tomatoes and Burrata.
For the last several weeks, baskets of earthy and sweet cherry and grape tomatoes in shades of red, orange and yellow have been at loads of farm stands, and while I slice them into salads and snack on them while I’m cooking, they are tantalizing when roasted in the oven, caramelized and intensely flavored.
Aromatic, slightly spicy, sweet basil — plants and bunches (or bouquets as I think of them) — can be found at many farm stands at the market, and so can thai, cinnamon and purple varieties. While basil is more garnish than main ingredient in this dish, I think it’s a critical component, lending bright, fresh flavor as well as vibrant color.
Corn has been playing hide-and-seek at the Saturday market, and the few times I’ve seen it, I’ve been so overcome with excitement over my discovery that I have forgotten to take photos of it. We’ve enjoyed it on the cob, in salads, and sauteed with sweet onions and tossed off the heat with fresh cherry tomatoes. But, mixed into smooth polenta, corn provides texture and pure, fresh flavor.
This meatless but substantial summer dish comes together with minimal effort: slice the tomatoes onto a cookie sheet, toss them with a tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper and slide them into the oven for about an hour, shaking the pan every 15-20 minutes. While the tomatoes roast and fill the kitchen with a sweet aroma, cut the corn off of one cob, grate about a 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and set aside a pat or two of butter. After the tomatoes have been in the oven for about 30 minutes, start the polenta, which will cook for 15-20 minutes. Once the polenta is ready, mix in the butter, cheese and corn. As you stir the mixings in, the butter and cheese slowly melt, making the cooked coarse grain even creamier. The corn softens from the heat, but retains a touch of crunch and lots of sweetness.
To serve, spread a generous spoonful of the polenta on the bottom of a serving dish, spoon the roasted tomatoes on top of the polenta, and then place a hunk of creamy burrata on top of the tomatoes. A swirl of finishing olive oil, a grinding or two of black pepper and torn basil leaves scattered across the plate finish this simple, colorful dish, which I serve with a green salad. The recipe, which serves two, is below and easily can be doubled.
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, rinsed, sliced in half
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup coarse grain polenta
- 2 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- ½ cup fresh corn, cut from the cob (frozen can be substituted)
- 1½ Tablespoons unsalted butter
- Burrata (fresh mozzarella or ricotta could be substituted)
- a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
- 1-2 Tablespoons good, finishing olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the tomatoes, toss them with the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste. Roast in the oven for about an hour, shaking the pan every 15-20 minutes. They are done when they begin to caramelize, and the edges turn dark brown. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
- Grate the parmesan cheese, cut the corn off the cob and set both ingredients aside with the 1½ tablespoons of unsalted butter.
- After the tomatoes have been roasting for about 30 minutes, begin making the polenta. Bring the water to a boil, add ¼ teaspoon salt and stir in the polenta. Stir every few minutes for about 15-20 minutes (follow the directions on the package; cook times vary by brand).
- To assemble: spread the polenta on the bottom of your serving dish, spoon the roasted tomatoes on top of the polenta. Put a slice of the burrata on top of the tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil on top of the burrata and tomatoes, and grind black pepper on top (to taste). Tear a few leaves of basil over the dish and serve.