The other day, I picked up my son from an overnight stay at his grandma’s house, and was offered a bounty of freshly cut herbs from my in-laws’ garden: basil, rosemary, and oregano. I accepted the offerings happily, while hoping secretly that I wouldn’t just let the cuttings rot in my fridge. I had a mission.
I’ve written about roasted cherry tomatoes before in a delicious rad-atouille, and it’s funny that in the short life of this blog I’ve included two recipes with tomatoes – because, to be honest, I don’t really like tomatoes. I love tomato sauce, and salsa, provided it’s not chunky. It’s a texture thing with me. But that should tell you how awesome this little dish I’m sharing today is, because here I am, knocking back the tomatoes as if I love them. When you blacken the tomatoes in the oven, they become sweet and squishy, eliminating the weird texture issue and allowing prime flavor to literally burst through.
When I arrived home, I scanned our kitchen for possible uses for my gifted herbs: spicy chicken sausages that needed to be cooked, two baskets of cherry tomatoes ready to expire (I was a little excited about the rad-atouille, but hadn’t made it again yet), an unopened container of crème fraîche that I meant to use in an Ottolenghi recipe but then lost motivation (believe me, I don’t normally just have some crème fraîche lying around), a package of quick-cooking polenta. A meal materialized. I’d make a roasted cherry tomato sauce to smash into romano-infused polenta with a spicy sausage on the side.
The results were so amazing that we actually set the table in our formal dining room to enjoy the feast. This dish was simple and easy, yet outstanding. I had a good feeling about this one, so I documented the process to share with you here. Make the most of the end of harvest season and pick up as many fresh ingredients as you can, but know that even if your mother-in-law isn’t handing you fresh basil this recipe will be awesome with dried herbs from your pantry. There are some other variations to try I’ve noted in the ingredients list below. Enjoy!
Smashed Cherry Tomatoes and Polenta
- Cherry tomatoes (I used two baskets, or about 2.5 cups)
- Approximately 2 T. of soft cheese for mixing – I used crème fraîche, but you can use ricotta or cream cheese or even some whole milk or almond milk
- 1-2 T. garlic
- 1 T. olive oil, plus a bit more for sauce
- 2 T. Red wine vinegar
- Whole milk to taste
- Spices (diced fresh or dried): rosemary, basil, oregano – about 1-1.5 T. of each
- Sea salt & pepper to taste
- Polenta (or pasta if you’d prefer)
- Sausage (we used spicy chicken sausage)
- Shredded romano or parmesan cheese to taste (sub pine nuts or chopped walnuts to skip dairy)
1 – Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Gather your ingredients, as the dish comes together quickly once you get started.
2 – Throw the cherry tomatoes into a Ziploc bag, and add olive oil, red wine vinegar, a pinch of sea salt and pepper to taste. Close and shake the bag to cover tomatoes evenly. Empty tomatoes into an oven-safe dish or on a cookie sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes, or until blackened.
3 – Meanwhile, cook your polenta (or pasta). I used ready-made polenta. I smash it with a potato masher in a big sauce pot, and add milk and romano (or parmesan) cheese to make it creamy and flavorful. Once the polenta reaches the texture you want, you’re just heating it, so you can keep the stove on low until you’re ready to eat.
4 – While the tomatoes roast and the polenta simmers, cook your sausages. I used a grill pan (one of my favorite kitchen purchases) on the stove, but a regular pan will do. You can cook the sausages on an outdoor grill, too, or even throw them on a separate cookie sheet and roast them with the tomatoes for about 15 minutes, checking them frequently and testing the temperature with a cook’s thermometer to make sure they’re done.
5 – While everything cooks, chop your rosemary, basil and oregano, if you are adding them fresh.
6 – Once the tomatoes are blackened, remove them from the oven, and place your oven-safe dish on the stove, or transfer the tomatoes to a deep pan or sauce pot. Turn the heat on low to medium. Add a bit of olive oil so the tomatoes don’t stick. Add the chopped rosemary, basil and oregano, and stir.
7 – Add garlic…
8 – Then add your big dollops o’ creamy cheese…
9 – Stir well to coat tomatoes, which by now are a little wilty and smashed. Add a bit of salt and pepper, if you wish. Let everything heat together for about 10 minutes or so on low heat.
10 – Plate your polenta, smashed tomatoes and sausage, and top with cheese
Enjoy! Sit at your fancy table if you want.