Summer may be over according to the school and holiday calendars, but my kitchen counters continue to overflow with bowls of sweet cherry tomatoes that I associate with picnic season. In fact, it was a picnic that inspired this recipe for a polenta and roasted cherry tomato tart, and it's just right for carrying to your local park. Of course, if you can't squeeze in time for a picnic these days, the tart is just as delightful on a dinner table or in a lunch box.
Pâte brisée had always been my go-to tart base but this summer I encountered two problems with the classic crust. One, it isn't friendly to gluten-free and vegan eaters, and two, it can be delicate and difficult to transport. When cooking for a picnic recently I thought I'd try polenta as an alternative tart crust. It turned out to be the perfect choice: sturdy enough to carry and not get soggy from the tomatoes, easily gluten-free, and optionally dairy-free (good for vegans and no-refrigerator situations). Now that we're heading into the fall season, savory tarts with polenta crusts would also hold up well for potlucks and workday lunches.
The polenta crust is a little crisp on the outside, tender in the middle, and delicious with tomatoes. For this recipe, I like to stir some olive oil and basil into the polenta. The cherry tomatoes get roasted in the oven until they burst, making them even sweeter and deeper in flavor. If you eat cheese, some creamy chèvre also makes a nice addition.
If the recipe looks a bit involved — making the polenta on the stovetop, pouring it into a tart pan, roasting the tomatoes, par-baking the crust, assembling and baking again — know that it's actually quite simple. Besides the initial whisking of the polenta and arranging the tomatoes on top of the tart, it's mostly hands-off. You can even start the crust and roast the tomatoes ahead of time, store them in the refrigerator, and then assemble and bake about 30 minutes before you want to eat.
Polenta Tart with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
For the polenta crust:
4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup polenta or yellow corn meal
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chiffonade of basil
For the tomatoes:
1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Chiffonade of basil or small basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Using olive oil, lightly oil a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and set it aside.
To make the polenta, bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Slowly whisk in the polenta and continue whisking until thickened. Reduce the heat to low-medium and continue cooking for 10 minutes, whisking very frequently. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/4 cup basil.
Let the polenta cool slightly and then pour it into the tart pan. Use the back of a wet spoon to smooth it evenly into the pan. Set it aside to firm up.
Meanwhile, toss the tomatoes and garlic with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper and spread them out evenly on a baking sheet. Roast until the tomatoes are just bursting, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.
Place the polenta crust in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes until the edges are somewhat dry and crisp. Remove from the oven and arrange the tomatoes on top. (You'll have leftover tomato juices, olive oil, and garlic in the roasting pan — this is delicious in a salad dressing!) Return the tart to the oven for 5 more minutes or until heated through.
Un-mold when cool enough to handle. Drizzle olive oil on top and scatter with basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Make-ahead tips: Polenta can be poured into the pan, cooled, and refrigerated until ready to bake. Tomatoes can be roasted, cooled, transferred to a container and covered with olive oil, and refrigerated until ready to bake.
Goat cheese version (non-vegan): Replace the olive oil in the polenta with 2 ounces of chèvre and spread 3-4 ounces of chèvre on the crust before arranging the tomatoes on top.
(Images: Emily Ho)