Summer's bounty grilled to flavorful perfection then stacked on a bed of cheesy polenta and topped with marinated tomatoes and herbs.
This twist on France's ratatouille, a stewed vegetable and herb side dish, surely isn't the first of its kind. But it is special to me. I once read, "The secret to any good ratatouille is to cook the vegetables separately so each will taste truly of itself." And that's exactly what I did in my grilled and stacked variation.
Each zucchini, eggplant and green pepper slice was salted and grilled by individually. I even took the crucial step of disgorging the first two veggies. (Read more about it in the directions of the actual recipe.)
Each received the charred mark of the grill grate, a sure sign of a flavorful future. The polenta is homemade with a cheese and chive cheddar, though you could use any of your favorite cheeses. What makes this ratatouille scream summer is the fresh marinated tomatoes. They soak in good olive oil and balsamic vinegar and herbs.
The first time I tried ratatouille was at the BYU Museum of Art Cafe. The ratatouille was coincidentally paired with polenta. I've got fond memories of that cafe and of the museum from my college days. In fact, I recently spent a quiet evening soaking in these three exhibitions. Exploring a museum, especially by myself at my own pace, feeds my soul. I can't explain this circumstance other than saying that it awakens different senses in my being. It's a part of my existence, I feel, I often neglect. I love art for that very reason. I always step out renewed and feeling more alive.
When were you first exposed to ratatouille or polenta?
Grilled Ratatouille & Polenta Stacks
by Becky of Project Domestication
for grilled ratatouille
1 md. globe zucchini, sliced 1/4-1/2 inch
2 md. eggplant, sliced about 1/4-1/2 inch
1 green bell pepper, sliced about 1/4-1/2 inch
sea salt or kosher salt
good olive oil
1 c. polenta/cornmeal
4 c. water, divided
1/2-1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
liberal pinch of red pepper flakes
a few sprinkles of dried thyme
1 c. cheese (i used onion and chive, use any you like) + 8 slices
for marinated tomatoes and herbs
2-4 md tomatoes, chopped
1-2 TB fresh herbs (I used rosemary, oregano and thyme)
1-2 TB olive oil
1-2 TB balsamic vinegar
salt to taste
4 handfuls of arugula
Place sliced zucchini and eggplant on paper towel-lined cookie sheets or plates. Generously sprinkle vegetables with salt. Let set for 15 minutes then blot each veggie round with a paper towel to get rid of excess water droplets. Turn veggies over, salt and repeat.
Note: This step is important in the success of the dish. If you do skip it that water is actually bitter juice that can make your eggplant flavor quite off-putting. As for the zucchini, that plant is simply full of water and will also help the vegetable not be soggy. This step is called disgorging.
In a small bowl combine tomatoes, herbs, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Salt to taste. Set aside until you are ready to plate. This allows the tomatoes extra time to marinate in the oil and vinegar.
Preheat your grill to medium-high heat.
While zucchini and eggplant are disgorging, start your polenta. Bring three cups of water to a boil then add in salt, polenta and remaining. Immediately stir with whisk until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add in black pepper, red pepper flakes and dried time. Cover with lid and turn heat to low and cook for 3-5 minutes. Stir in cheese.
Spray an 8x8 inch glass pan then quickly pour cooked polenta into dish. You'll want to do this quickly so the polenta doesn't begin to set on the stove. Let polenta come to cool its temperature, meaning the pan isn't super hot and you are confident it's decently set. Flip polenta onto cutting board and cut in 4 equal pieces. Place polenta squares in freezer.
While polenta is getting even cooler and sturdier in freezer, grill your vegetables.
Brush all vegetables with olive oil then grill on md-high heat for 3-4 minutes each side, or until grill marks are present and they are the right amount of soft to your tastes.
Now it's time to grill your polenta. Brush with olive oil and grill each side for 5 minutes. On the second side add the reserved cheese slices then close grill and let cook until cheese is nice and bubbly.
Place a handful of arugula on plate. Then stack in this order: polenta, zucchini, eggplant and green peppers. Spoon marinated tomatoes over dish, making sure you get lots of it's juice. Enjoy.
*Alternatively you could purchase pre-cooked polenta in tubes. Just slice, brush with oil and grill. You'll save time.
Other polenta recipes you may enjoy:
Arugula-Cashew Pesto Polenta & Fried Egg Breakfast Bowls on Project Domestication
Fresh Corn Polenta topped with Sausage, Chard & Oyster Mushrooms on Vintage Mixer
Wilted Chard Salad with Polenta Croutons & Warm Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette on Cafe Johnsonia