One of the things I love exploring on this blog is using grains and flours of all sorts of kinds in my recipes. The options are endless, from wheat to kamut and from savory to sweet! Maria Speck does just the same with her food with passion and her love for whole grains shows.
Maria's latest book Simply Ancient Grains focuses on cooking whole grain is a spectacular treat> Not only does she include a variety of grains in her book but she eloquently includes them in a refreshing collection of unique dishes that are flavorful and as delicious as they sound. There are rye waffles with parmesan and rosemary, red rice shakshuka and feta, a teff polenta verde, a freekeh soup with spicy harissa, shrimp and dates, jugu cakes (an African-Indian peanut biscotti) and many more such delicious treats to cook at home and enjoy! Maria also shares several helpful tips and ideas on how to plan meals for days ahead for busy weeks that I found really useful.
If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, Maria will also be signing copies of her new book in the last week of May but she's also going to visit several other cities around the country and you can find her entire book tour schedule here. The best part, she's even cooking and serving up treats from her book at some of these spots!
I selected this sweet honey flavored polenta tart to share with you from her book. It's a unique way to look at tart crusts! I find the soft texture of corn in polenta to be very comforting and how it would taste in a tart had me rather curious. So I had to try this recipe out. The flavors in this dessert are simple yet stand out elegantly. There's honey and butter glazed layer of sweet almonds that give a toffee like flavor along with with a delicious cinnamon and thyme flavored fresh plum compote that's served over the polenta tart. A little whipped cream or creme fraîche on the side and it's perfect with a glass of white wine or champagne (which is my drink of choice).
Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing this dish,
- I don't have a ceramic tart pan but my metal one worked fine. Just grease the pan well before baking.
- I used slivered almonds instead of the original sliced almonds as listed in the recipe, mostly because I ran out of them. They work great but note that the texture of the tart will be different.
- I used lemon thyme over regular thyme in the recipe because I grow some in a container on my terrace. It gives a little hint of citrus to the plums.
- I like creme fraîche over whipped cream to serve with most desserts but you can go with either.
- To prepare the tart before baking, I've listed two ways to do it. One involves spreading the polenta with a wet spoon while the other involves pressing it down with the flat side of a measuring cup and clingfilm (which I used). Both are easy to do.
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote
(from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck)
yields: 8 servings
for the polenta
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup (150g) polenta, preferably medium grind
for the compote and to finish
2 pounds fresh plums, pits removed and cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces (if plums are small cut into wedges)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons honey, or more as needed
1/4 cup dry sherry or apple juice
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (I used lemon thyme)
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, preferably the European-style
1 cup sliced almonds ( I used slivered)
softly whipped lightly sweetened heavy cream for serving for serving (optional) /creme fraîche can also be substituted
1. To prepare the polenta, add the water, milk, honey and salt to a large heavy saucepan, heat on medium-high and bring to a bare simmer, stirring occasionally. Using a large whisk, add the polenta in a slow and steady thin stream and continue t whisk for 1 minute. Reduce the heat if the mixture starts to bubble profusely. Reduce the heat further, cover the saucepan with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon every few minutes to prevent the polenta from sticking to the bottom. Remove the saucepan from the stove and let it sit, covered for 10 minutes, stirring well once or twice.
2. Butter a 10 inch tart pan and place it on a wire rack. Transfer the polenta to the pan and spread evenly to form a smooth layer. You can dip a wooden spoon in cold water and then spread the mixture. The other way to do this, is to place a large sheet of clingfilm over the polenta in the pan and using the flat base of a measuring cup spread the mixture out evenly in a layer. Set the prepared tart pan aside to firm for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Prick the surface of the polenta with the round end of a spoon about 12 times by inserting the spoon at a 45 degree angle into the tart. Dip the spoon in cold water between each insertion to prevent sticking. This will allow even baking of the tart and prevent heaving during baking.
3. To bake the tart, place a wire rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F.
4. While the oven preheats, prepare the plum compote. Add the plums to a large mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of honey, sherry, brandy and 1 tablespoon of thyme. Toss gently to combine, taste and add more honey if desired. Cover and chill to macerate, stirring gently once or twice. (I left it to chill for about two hours)
5. Add the butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey to a medium skillet. Heat on medium and stir occasionally with a spoon until blended. Fold in the almonds and stir until the almonds are coated and the mixture starts to foam, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately spread the almonds on the surface of the polenta, using the back of the spoon.
6. Bake the prepared tart for about 20 minutes until the small bubbles appear around the edges and the almonds turn a glistening golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes to allow to set before cutting.
7. To serve the tart, cut it into 8 wedges with a sharp serrated knife. Place each wedges on a dessert plate and spoon a generous amount of the prepared chilled compote with a little bit of the juices on top. Garnish each serving with a little fresh thyme leaves and if desired a little bit of a dollop of the whipped cream.