I would not be lying if I told you that the husband and I are still eating tomatoes in season even though they're not in season.
Let me explain. The husband and I built our first garden this year. We don't get much sun in the backyard, but I was insistent on putting in an entire section of tomatoes. What is a garden without tomatoes?
Things were looking bleak as we headed into October with only a smattering of firm, green tomatoes. At this point, sun was practically non-existent and I was certain that the first frost would snatch them from me any day. So what's a Seattleite to do?
Well, pick them, I guess! Warmer temps and a little light were in order. I set them on my kitchen window sill, honestly having my doubts that they would ripen - it was almost November, after all! But, sure enough, firm greens are slowly turning to tender yellows and reds. And that is how we are eating seasonal tomatoes in November.
I'm guessing that you might not be in the same boat, which is why you can use any other seasonal vegetable in this dish to roast instead. Mushrooms, beets, or eggplant would be lovely. Or perhaps some braised greens.
Anyway, I think you will love this simple vegetarian dish. It's a Tuesday night dinner trying to be a Friday night dinner. I created it when I wanted to take affordable weeknight staples, like beans and polenta, to the next level.
Which is why it contains things like this:
The tanginess from the aged cheddar seriously bumps up the gourmet factor in this humble dish. Well, the balsamic reduction might have something to do with that too. It ribbons over the dish like satin.
But, before we distract ourselves too much with the finer things in life, let's get back to the basics.
Have you tried heirloom beans?
I found these gems in the bulk section at Whole Foods. The options are endless. Today, I bought nine different varieties. I don't think the cashier was very excited to see me as I plopped nine baggies of beans on the belt, each with a separate code to punch in. Make that ten with the polenta.
Anyway, they have the coolest names. Winners like tongues of fire, pigeon peas, Jacob's cattle trout (Cattle AND trout? Make up your mind, Jacob!), European soldier, appaloosa, pebble, cranberry, and Pedrosillano Cafe garbanzo.
I may or may not have selected my choices today based on the awesomeness of their name.
Beans are a wonderful source of fiber, protein, folate, and several minerals. They also contain an array of phytochemicals, which is a fancy word for compounds that help protect against chronic and degenerative diseases. These little heirloom ones have exceptional flavor, but any dried bean you can find will do here. Set them out to soak in the morning for quicker cooking and better digestion at dinner. Canned beans are fine in a pinch. Aim to choose no-salt-added or low-sodium options if available and be sure to give them a good rinse.
While we're on the subject of cooking technique, it's also best to avoid knocking over half a bottle of olive oil during the preparation of this dish. Unless you're fancying some really shiny hardwood floors, in which case, this is a terrific technique. Costly, but terrific.
We eat with our eyes first, so this dish is all about the garnish. I like to serve it with a sprinkle of cheese on top and that drizzle of balsamic I rambled on about somewhere up there. Make sure some of it gets on those roasted vegetables. And promptly toss a petite pile of herbs on top - basil, in this case. Satisfaction will immediately settle in.
heirloom beans with aged cheddar polenta + balsamic reduction // serves 4
1 cup dried heirloom beans
1 pound fresh tomatoes, coarsely diced into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup polenta (coarse ground cornmeal)
3 oz aged cheddar cheese, shredded, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup julienned or chopped fresh herb, such as basil or thyme
Place beans in a large bowl. Discard any shriveled beans or small stones. Add 3 to 4 cups of water and soak at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. Drain. Place soaked, drained beans in a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cover with lid slightly ajar. Simmer until tender.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Roast until soft and slightly blackened, about 20 minutes.
In a small skillet over medium high heat, add balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer 2 to 4 minutes, watching carefully and lowering heat if needed. Remove from heat. It will continue to reduce slightly and form a thick, syrup-like consistency.
Fill a large saucepan with 4 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Whisk in polenta, and continue whisking constantly for 5 minutes. If the polenta begins to pop like lava while stirring, turn down the heat a bit. Remove from heat, and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Stir in cheese.
Fill each bowl with the cooked polenta, beans, and tomatoes. Garnish each with a small sprinkle of cheese, 1 tablespoon basil, and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.