This Ottolenghi recipe comes from OTK – the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen “Extra Good Things.” (There are other OTK cookbooks.) There’s a good video of the recipe being made online here. The full name is Baked Polenta with Feta, Bechamel, and Za’Atar Tomatoes.
The recipe got my attention for the obvious reasons – cheesy polenta, bechamel, feta, tomatoes, and za’atar. This “pizza” polenta is supposed to be made on a sheet pan, but to avoid potential messiness, I opted for a gratin pan. As expected, my polenta layer is a little thicker than in the video, but it’s easy to slice!
Ottolenghi has this thing about slow-roasted and charred cherry tomatoes, like with his Grilled Prawns, Corn, and Tomato Salad, which is great, but I don’t love the feeling of tomato skins in my mouth. Obviously raw tomatoes wouldn’t work in this dish, but you could always opt for using peeled large tomatoes that are chopped. It of course wouldn’t be as pretty.
Baked Polenta with Feta, Bechamel, and Za’Atar Tomatoes
3 ounces unsalted butter
1 1/2 ounces plain flour
25 ounces whole milk
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
7 ounces quick-cook polenta
3 ounces pecorino romano, roughly grated
6 ounces Greek feta, roughly crumbled
Oregano sprigs (try to use the softer sprigs)
15 ounces datterini or cherry tomatoes
4 ounces olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoon za’atar
1⁄2 tsp caster sugar
Parsley, roughly chopped
Oregano leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Put the tomatoes, oil, vinegar, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper into a medium baking dish, roughly 8 x 12 inches. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 40–45 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until the tomatoes have just burst but aren’t completely falling apart.
Remove the foil, gently stir in the za’atar and sugar and leave to cool completely. Once cool, stir in the herbs (gently, so as not to break up the tomatoes).
Turn the heat up to 450 degrees F. Line a large baking tray roughly 12 x 16 inches in size with baking parchment.
Put 1 1/2 ounces of the butter into a medium saucepan over a medium- high heat. Once melted, add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 30 seconds or until it smells like popcorn. Slowly pour in 12 ounces of the milk, whisking continuously to avoid any lumps, then add the garlic, 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper, turn the heat down to medium and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until quite thick and no longer floury-tasting. Set aside and cover with a piece of baking parchment, to stop a skin forming.
Meanwhile, prepare the polenta by first putting the remaining 13 1/2 ounces of milk, 10 ounces of water, 0.7 ounces of the butter, 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt and a good grind of pepper into a medium sauté pan (or saucepan) over a medium-high heat. Once it gently bubbles, turn the heat down to medium-low, slowly add the polenta, whisking continuously to incorporate, and cook for 2 minutes, to thicken.
Add the pecorino and the remaining 0.7 ounces of butter and stir with a spatula until incorporated. Quickly transfer to your prepared baking tray and spread out in a large oblong shape about 1/2 inch thick and 15 inches in length. Spoon over the béchamel and spread it so it covers the surface, leaving a 3/4 inch rim exposed around the edges.
Top evenly with the feta and the oregano sprigs and bake for 22 minutes, or until golden and bubbling on top and starting to brown around the edges. Leave to cool for 5–10 minutes.
Spoon about half the za’atar tomatoes on top of the baked polenta, serving the rest in a bowl alongside.
Use a pizza cutter (or a knife) to easily cut into slabs and serve warm.
This “pizza” would be wonderful served with a dressed green salad. It was definitely good, except for my issue with tomato skins!