Spicy, cheesy polenta wedges adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday! by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
A long time ago I was told I had gallstones. Now these have not bothered me. Yet. But I was told not to eat: this, that, something else, etc. etc. etc. I did this for all of about five minutes and then I gave up (actually it was quite a bit longer, but you know…). Fact is I wasn’t prepared to restrict my diet. The list had coffee and spicy foods on it – were they kidding me?! I laugh now at that, all gluten-free and low, low lactose that I am. I guess those gallstones are just biding their time before they complicate my life further. However, I did always feel a bit queasy after eating something that was a bit too greasy, and fatty foods are on the no-go list for gallstone sufferers. Everything in moderation, as they say. But we all know how aubergines are like little sponges soaking up oil when fried. A popular UK food columnist advises blanching aubergines when making parmigiana, and there is nothing wrong with this. However, a lot of recipes suggest salting the aubergine ahead of cooking to draw out the juices which seems counterintuitive to blanching. All this can be overcome much more easily in one move by using the grill. A quick brush of a minimal amount of oil and the heat draws out the liquid while the grill adds a slight charring to enhance the final flavour. Job done. No meat required in this dish because aubergine has the ‘meaty’ mouth feel all by itself – I reckon even die-hard meat-eaters would go for this. Clearly it is terribly inauthentic, but hey-ho, it’s close enough for me and it might actually be good for you! I used to love this aubergine parmagiana with beautiful crusty bread, but the fact is the gluten-free loaves out there, although good enough for toast, have not yet made it to a starring role in my meals yet. I got Hugh’s Veg Everyday! for Christmas and it is a joy. The polenta wedges are a lovely alternative to bread with this. It is a bit of a faff, because you’re making two things from scratch but I think it is worth it. A nice crisp leafy salad on the side is very good too.
Aubergine parmagiana with spicy, cheesy polenta wedges
Prep time 15 minutes Cook time 1½ hours Makes 3-4 adult servings
Preheat the oven to 170ºC fan-assisted (and your grill to 200ºC)
For the spicy, cheesy polenta wedges:
- 1 tbsp + 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped (I used a jalapeno)
- 150g quick cook gluten-free polenta
- 100g mature vegetarian cheddar (or other sharp hard cheese)
- 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
For the aubergine parmagiana:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 medium aubergines, topped and tailed and sliced lengthwise in ¼” slices
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 250ml passata
- 1 tsp dried herbes de provence
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 ball mozzarella, broken up into small chunks
- a large handful grated Parmesan or vegetarian hard Italian cheese
- leafy side salad (optional)
First prepare your polenta so it has time to cool while you are making the parmagiana. In a small frying pan soften the chilli and garlic gently in 1 tablespoon of the oil for a few minutes. Do not allow the garlic to colour. Next make the polenta according to the instructions on the packet. Stir the cheddar and chopped rosemary in well until the cheese has melted. At this stage, if you are feeding very little ones, you can divide the polenta into two batches, and only add the chilli and garlic mixture to one. I usually go with ¾ spicy and ¼ just cheesy. Now pour the polenta out onto one or more appropriately sized plates (depending on whether you’ve split the batch) so that you can smooth it out into an even wheel that is approximately ¾” thick. Leave to one side until completely cold.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onion for about 8 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic slices and soften these with the onions for a further 2 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure they do not colour. Tip in the chopped tomatoes, the passata, the cinnamon and the herbes de provence, stir and simmer over a medium high heat for around 30 minutes until thickened. Stir occasionally to prevent it sticking and burning. While the sauce is cooking and when the grill is at temperature, brush your aubergine slices with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and grill for around 5-10 minutes per side, until they are starting to colour and look a little wrinkly. When sauce and aubergine slices are ready it is time to layer them. In an ovenproof dish (I use a small glass lasagna dish) make three layers of ingredients. First one third of the aubergine slices, then one third of the sauce, dot with one third of the mozzarella and sprinkle one third of the hard cheese. Repeat twice more. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is bubbling and golden.
Near the end of the cooking time finish making the polenta wedges. Heat the last tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium high heat. Cut the polenta wheel/s into wedges and fry for around 3-5 minutes per side until they have a golden brown crust. Drain on kitchen paper as necessary. Serve the parmigiana with the polenta wedges in large warmed bowls, with a side salad if desired.