I’m back in the cooking mood! After feeling a bit kitchen-lazy the last couple of weeks, I got back into the swing of things yesterday while helping the amazing ladies from Las Vegan and Big Sky to cater the Animal Activists’ Forum social. It was a fun day making canapés, actually my favourite kind of food to make. So much fun in fact that while I was laying awake all night as I always seem to do, I found myself writing a list of everything in the fridge and pantry, and scribbling down ideas for new dishes. I came up with a dozen new canapé ideas before I got onto the practical ideas, because while my brain is always very awake when I should be sleeping, it’s rarely helpful.
This recipe came to me around 5am as I was getting hungry for breakfast, and made it to the top of the list because I wanted to go for a picnic today. A perfect warm and sunny spring day, the birds were singing and the air smelled of flowers. And polenta tarts are perfect for picnics; they are best at room temperature, they are sturdy and travel well (once cut into pieces), and you don’t have to worry about keeping them in the fridge. Hooray! Plus they are gluten free, which is excellent, because most of my favourite picnic foods revolve around the bread I can no longer eat.
Of course, in typical Melbourne fashion by the time the tart came out of the oven a thunderstorm had rolled in. Bye bye picnic. It was sad times, until I ate this tart, then I was very happy again. This tart might be great for picnics, but it’s just as delicious when you eat it inside. It’s great for a rustic brunch or lunch or at a BBQ. It would also fit well into an Italian restaurant style antipasti plate (where each diner is served an individual tasting plate of 3-5 antipasti).
2 large leeks (mine were very large, if in doubt use 3)
3 bunches of asparagus (approx 21 spears), woody ends snapped off
5 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegan parmesan
Olive oil for cooking
Salt and pepper to taste
For the crust
1 cup polenta (aka cornmeal)
4 cups water
A generous pinch of salt and a little more for good measure
2 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup vegan parmesan
1. Make the crust
Line a rimmed baking tray with baking paper
Bring the 4 cups water, the salt and the oil to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add the polenta to the boiling water while whisking. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens. Switch to a wooden spoon and continue cooking over a low heat until thick and creamy, approx 20-30 minutes. Remove from the heat and beat in the vegan parmesan. Check salt and adjust if necessary.
Pour the polenta onto the tray and spread into a rectangle approx 30 x 20cm. Try to concentrate more of the mixture at the edges if you can, but make sure the middle is 1 to 1.5cm thick. Leave to cool and set a few minutes, then form a crust by pinching up the edges. Leave to set 30 minutes (or longer, you can make this in advance).
2. Preheat the oven to 200C/190C fan forced
3. Remove the tough dark green leaves from the leeks (but keep the light green parts). Cut the leeks in half, then slice lengthwise 5mm thick. Wash very well. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a heavy frying pan over medium heat and add the leeks. Sauté until softened and starting to brown a little, then add the rosemary, bay leaf, stock and water. Stir to deglaze, then cover with a lid. Allow to braise until all the liquid has absorbed and the leeks are meltingly soft. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan. Keep stirring until you have creamy dip like mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Place the set polenta crust into the oven and bake 20 minutes to crisp up. Remove from the oven and spread the leek mixture evenly over the top. Place the asparagus spears on top, pressing them in a little. Brush with a little olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Return to the oven for another 20 -25 minutes, or until the asparagus spears are nice and tender and the polenta crust is nice and crispy.
4. Remove from the oven and leave to cool at least 10 minutes. Use the baking paper to lift the tart onto a serving board and let cool to lukewarm before slicing. This tart is best served at room temperature. Garnish with a little fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice before serving, if desired.