Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mexican Polenta Pizza with Tomatillo Salsa (gluten-free)

Hello everyone! Rosh Hashana is upon us, and so I thought I would post...something entirely unrelated to apples, honey or brisket! But tonight's recipe is in part motivated by the upcoming holiday. Specifically, we got a really great haul from our CSA this week and we have been scrambling (figuratively and literally as well, we made scrambled eggs this weekend with some of it) to use up the delicious produce we get from Windflower Farm - with the abbreviated week, we needed to make sure we cooked up some good stuff before heading to family for the holiday.

Among our haul: tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, arugula, red onions and tomatillos. The last one being, I think, the most interesting of the bunch. I've heard professional TV chefs like Bobby Flay talk about how amazing tomatillos are, and I've heard of them used in lots of Mexican dishes. I've seen them in the supermarket too, but I've always been a little afraid to buy them, being unsure what they taste like or how to use them. So naturally when we got them in our CSA it was my job to use them up.

The trouble with tomatillos is: no one else really seems to know how to use them either! That's an exaggeration of course, but in my research it seemed like all people really used tomatillos for sauces - the most popular being salsa verde, along with some other tasty-sounding sauces for enchiladas, or as mix-ins for guacamole. I recently even saw a tomatillo ketchup from Saveur recently. But in all these recipes the tomatillos were just playing second fiddle as a condiment. I nearly gave up and planned on just buying some avocadoes and dicing them into guacamole...

When I asked Faigy what proteins we had on hand, she mentioned chicken. I figured I'd be stuffed with chicken for the next three days over the holiday, so I wanted to go for something else. The only other things she mentioned we had were pasta and polenta. Hmm...polenta sounds good, but we always have it sliced into rounds, how could I come up with a new presentation...?

A few more minutes mulling it over and it hit me! Being a sauce didn't mean the tomatillo couldn't play a starring role. What if I just treated it like a tomato and made a sauce out of it for pizza? But the better answer was to let the tomato inspire it, but not treat it like one.

I went back to the tomatillo salsa idea. I could bake a pizza "crust" from polenta, spread a tomatillo salsa doctored up as a pizza sauce on it, sprinkle cheese and bake! The result was a recipe with a number of different variations to fit all sorts of different tastes and requirements.

Some notes: I tried the salsa raw and cooked. The raw had much more of a spicy kick, but way more vibrant flavor and a beautiful color. If you're looking for something punchy with a great bright green color, keep the salsa raw before spreading onto the crust (you may need to strain it a bit). On the other had, the cooked version has a much deeper, more caramelized flavor, with a taste that vaguely resembles a tomato but not quite.

This can also be made vegan by using vegan cheese (or omitting it entirely). It is also entirely gluten-free naturally!

Finally: if you want a quick version: skip the tomatillo sauce entirely and just use regular tomato sauce. The polenta crust is way healthier than dough (350 calories for the whole thing) and it takes 5 minutes active time to prep.

Mexican Polenta Pizza with Tomatillo Salsa and fresh CSA veggie salad
Mexican Polenta Pizza (with optional Tomatillo Salsa)

For the crust:
1 tube pre-cooked polenta (we love Trader Joe's brand)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. water
About 2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. garlic
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried basil
Black pepper to taste
Cooking spray

For the pizza:
Note: these ingredients are hard to measure. The numbers here are an estimate; you should use as much as appears to be good to you - use more or less sauce or cheese if you prefer, and use enough to cover all but the edge of the crust.
~1 cup pizza cheese (we get a blend of mozzarella and cheddar)
~1 cup Tomatillo Sauce or other tomato sauce
~1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a pizza stone or other oven-safe pan (cast iron skillet would work well too) with cooking spray. 
  2. Slice polenta into 1-inch thick rounds. Stack them, then cut them into quarters (will make for easier processing). Transfer the sliced polenta into a food processor fitted with the chopping blade.
  3. Add cornstarch, water, garlic, salt, basil and pepper to the food processor bowl.
  4. Cover the food processor and turn on. Open the feeder chute and slowly drizzle in olive oil until polenta is no longer chunky and blends smooth, about 2 tbsp. You may need to stop a few times and break up larger polenta chunks by hand. They don't have to be completely blended, just mostly smooth.
  5. Spray a rubber spatula with cooking spray (the polenta mix is quite sticky, I assure you). Transfer all the polenta mixture onto the pizza stone or pan and spread it out so that it is all an even layer (don't spread it too thin, about 1/4 - 1/2 inch is fine).
  6. Bake the crust by itself for 15 minutes.
    The blind-baked polenta crust.
    1. If you are making the tomatillo salsa, now is a good time to start preparing it (you can also make it in advance).
    2. When the crust is done, remove from the oven to cool a bit. Sprinkle or grate about half the Parmesan cheese onto the crust to taste.
      Parmesan beneath the sauce and on top works quite well.
    3. Spread sauce evenly on crust. Sprinkle cheese on top of sauce.
    4. Bake for another 25 minutes (this will make the cheese nice and golden brown, my favorite; if you like it less crispy, start checking after 15-20 minutes).
    5. Remove from oven, sprinkle more Parmesan, slice into eighths and enjoy!

    Serves 2 as a main dish; 4 if used as a side; more if cut up into hors d'oeuvres


    If you are using the cooked version of the salsa, I promise you using the whole chili pepper is not too hot (not very perceptible on the pizza). On the other hand if you are using the raw version, it's got a good, medium kick to it. You can add another pepper to make the final version spicier, but I strongly suggest you not to leave it out if you aren't a big fan of heat - the fruitiness of the pepper really helps the tomatillo and if you cook it, it won't be too spicy.

    Ingredients
    4 medium tomatillos, husks removed and washed well, quartered
    1 banana pepper, jalapeno or other green chili pepper, seeded and inner pith removed (or leave it in if you want it hotter), coarsely chopped
    1 medium red onion (or 2 small ones), cut into eighths
    2 cloves of garlic, quartered
    1 tbsp. lime juice or juice from 1/2 fresh lime
    1 tbsp. sugar
    2 tsp. sea salt or kosher salt
    1. Put all the ingredients into a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse 10-15 times to combine well till it is mostly chopped smooth.
      The raw salsa is a more vibrant green and still has the pretty purple color from the onions, but is much more pungent and spicy.
    2. If using raw salsa, strain some of the liquid out and stop here.
    3. Transfer salsa to a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes until most of the liquid has boiled off, stirring periodically to avoid burning.
    The cooked salsa has a deeper caramelized flavor which tastes a little tomato-like, but still unique.
    You can also just use this as a salsa for chips!

    Makes about 1 cup.

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