Peel-Yourself-off-the-Couch Roasted Tomatoes and Mozzarella over Creamy Polenta

As food goes, so goes my life, or maybe that’s the other way around.  My lack of posts this week is indicative of my lack of cooking–more generally a result of my lack of time to do anything.  My school-aged kids have had this week off from school, and between trying to remember to feed them (on Tuesday at 4PM my oldest son said, “Mom, what’s for lunch today?…), go to class, and attempt to do even a minuscule amount of reading, the week has completely gotten away from me.  On Tuesday, after a day that began at 5AM and went non-stop until after Noah, our oldest, finished his fencing lesson at 6:30PM, I just couldn’t cook.  We ordered take-out and had a Chinese feast with sweet and sour chicken for the boys and vegetarian lo mein and kung po tofu for the adults.  I did manage to take a (somewhat) artful picture of it, despite my lack of culinary industry.

When I don’t have time or don’t have the energy to cook dinner for my family, it usually means I’m trying to do too much. I put a high premium on having good food for dinner each night, and when the ability to do that starts slipping from my hands I have to reevaluate how I’m spending my time.

The thing I can’t figure out is where all of my time went.  Sure the kids have been home all week, and I’ve had classes and projects to attend to, but I don’t actually feel like I’ve done anything.  How could I be so busy, and yet not know what I did with any of my time–or more importantly, why I still have so many things to do?

Despite the strong temptation to order pizza, I did manage to make dinner tonight–my first home cooked meal of the week!  After peeling myself off the couch, where I’d been trying to prepare to lead a retreat this weekend on the book of Lamentations (it’s Lent, it’s not supposed to be fun), I looked at the menu I planned last week to see what was supposed to be up for tonight.  I already failed to make the temple dumplings and miso soup scheduled for Monday, and the quiche and salad I planned for Tuesday, so I contemplated making those, but decided against it.  In the end I decided on a quick dinner of roasted tomatoes with mozzarella on creamy polenta.  This is just the kind of meal to make when you’ve had to peel yourself off of the couch, and can be prepared in less than 30 minutes, with only 10 minutes or so of prep time.  It is adapted from The Quick Recipe, which is a Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook from which I have many favorite meals.  This makes 4 generous servings.


For the polenta:

1  cup of course ground corn meal

4  cups of water

1  tablespoon of olive oil

1  teaspoon of salt

For the tomato mixture:

2  28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes (this seems like a lot, but trust me, you’ll want this much)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 green onions, sliced at an angle, green parts only

8 ounces on fresh mozzarella, in 1/2 inch cubes

olive oil for drizzling

Preheat your oven to 450°.

Start the polenta first so it has plenty of time to cook while the tomatoes are roasting.  Pour the water into a medium sized saucepan along with the salt and bring to a boil.  Add the cornmeal and stir or whisk to incorporate.  Turn the heat down low enough that the water is just below a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, until the polenta is creamy and the grains are no longer chewy, with the lid off.  When it is finished cooking, stir in the olive oil, and put a lid on it until until the rest of the meal is ready.  It usually takes between 20 and 30 minutes to cook the polenta.

Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes thoroughly, pressing them in a sieve to remove as much liquid from them as you can.  Next, place them in a bowl and add the brown sugar and the olive oil, stirring to evenly coat the tomatoes.  Spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet and place them on the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, remove them from the oven and check to make sure they aren’t burning.  The bottoms of the tomatoes will be caramelizing and some even turning black in places.  With a spatula, turn the tomatoes over so the browning sides are facing up and place the pan back in the oven for another 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, check to make sure the bottoms are not burning.  If they are not yet roasted on the bottom, return to the oven for another 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes are roasted evenly.

Now you can see why you needed 4 cans of tomatoes–they reduce considerably after draining all their juices and roasting them.  After the tomates look about like the ones above, remove them from the oven and place in a medium mixing bowl.  Add the green onions and mozzarella, and toss.  Drizzle with just a little bit of olive oil.  The mozzarella will soften up but shouldn’t melt.  Serve over a scoop of polenta.  If you’re really ambitious, serve with a salad of sliced cucumbers and strawberries, tossed with just a drizzle of olive oil and a speck of salt (I was not this ambitious, but I at least thought about it).

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