Belinda Jeffery

Soft Cheese Polenta With Confit Tomatoes

This easy dish incorporates two of my favourite recipes – confit tomatoes and soft cheese polenta. The tomatoes have a mellow sweetness that’s really lovely, so much so that I often cook double the quantity as I love having leftovers in the fridge. In fact, the same goes for the polenta – this makes more than you will need to serve four people, however I always cook the full amount and spread the leftover polenta into a shallow dish and pop it in the fridge. Once set, it’s perfect for slicing into fingers or wedges and frying in a little olive oil to be used as a base for sautéed mushrooms, a chunky tomato sauce, braised spinach or cavolo nero, or whatever else takes your fancy…and always, but always, it’s better for being finished off with a little crumbled soft goat’s cheese (but then again, to my mind most things are better off with a little goat’s cheese!).

  • Serves 4

  • Confit tomatoes

  • 12 *small (about 30-40g each) roma tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • Sea salt flakes, to taste
  • 1 large clove of garlic, sliced paper-thin
  • 6 small thyme sprigs
  • Soft cheese polenta

  • 5 1/2 cups (1.375 litres) water
  • 250g stone-ground polenta
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 70g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 80g freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Small basil leaves
  • Goat’s cheese marinated in olive oil and herbs, optional
  • * If you can’t find small roma tomatoes, use 6-8 larger ones

Preheat your oven to 90C.

Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to the boil. With a sharp knife, cut a shallow X in the base of each tomato, then drop them into the pan of boiling water. Leave them for about 20 seconds then fish one out and check if the skin pulls away easily. If it does, quickly scoop the remaining tomatoes out of the water and plunge them into iced water. Leave them to cool for a minute or so, then transfer them to a plate.

Carefully peel away the skins (they should slip off easily), then cut each tomato in half lengthways – if you’re using larger tomatoes, quarter them lengthways. Use your fingers to scoop out the seeds, then pat the halves dry and sit them, cut-side up, in a single layer in a shallow glass or ceramic ovenproof dish. Drizzle the olive oil evenly over the tomatoes, dust each one with a tiny sprinkle of caster sugar and smidgen of sea salt, then scatter the garlic and thyme over the top.

Pop the dish in the oven and cook the tomatoes for 1 ½ – 2 hours until they’re very tender, but still keep their shape. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and leave them to cool a little. If you’re not using them immediately, transfer them to a container with a tight-fitting lid and store them in the fridge. They keep well for a week or so, just remember to return them to room temperature, or warm them gently, before serving.

Meanwhile, cook the polenta – you will need to create a sort of double boiler to cook it in. To do this, half-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to the boil. Turn the heat down so it bubbles very gently.

Pour the 5 ½ cups of water into your kettle and bring it just to the boil. While it’s heating up, put the polenta and salt into a large stainless steel bowl which will fit on top of the ‘double-boiler’ saucepan. When the 5 ½ cups of water is boiling, add it to the polenta, a third at a time, whisking all the while with a balloon whisk to avoid it clumping together. After a short time the polenta will start to thicken and absorb the liquid.

Now sit the bowl over the saucepan of gently bubbling water, making sure it doesn’t actually touch the surface. Cover it with a lid – it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t quite fit perfectly (or if you don’t have a lid that will come close in size, just cover the bowl with foil, sealing it tightly around the edges.) Cook the polenta for 1 ½ hours, removing the lid or foil every 20 minutes or so to give it a good whisk or stir. Re-cover it each time, and continue with the cooking until the polenta is ready. I usually taste it to check – it should be gently ‘corn-y’ and very, very light. Keep an eye on the water level in the bottom saucepan as the polenta cooks, and top it up if necessary.

If you’re using the polenta immediately, thoroughly mix in the butter and parmesan. If you want to hold the polenta for a while, don’t add the butter or parmesan. Instead, just cover the bowl and turn off the heat under the saucepan of hot water. The polenta will keep well for up to an hour – just warm up the water from time to time if it starts to cool. Add the butter and parmesan just before serving.

To serve, scoop some polenta into warm bowls. Spoon the confit tomatoes and some of their oily juices over the top (you don’t need many per serve as they’re intensely flavoured), add a good grinding of black pepper, then finish off with a scattering of basil leaves. If you like, you can crumble a little goat’s cheese over the top.