Salty crisp-tender asparagus alongside golden satiny cornmeal, polenta cauliflower torta with asparagus is simple Italian comfort food turned elegant. Hello spring!
This vegetarian polenta dish is peppered with rich sautéed cauliflower florets and sweet onions, giving it a wonderfully creamy moist texture. Paired with the ever popular green spears and crunchy toasted hazelnuts, here is a delicious meatless entrée for a celebratory dinner, or a vegetarian side dish for brunch or an elegant buffet.JUMP DIRECTLY TO RECIPE
Keep in mind that soft hot polenta cornmeal sets up quickly—as soon as you pour it into the mold. This means the cauliflower and onions need to be cooked and seasoned, ready to whisk into the thickened polenta. Firm molded polenta can hang out in the fridge, for an hour, or a couple of days, whichever is most convenient for you.
When you are ready to put it all together, unmold the torta onto a baking sheet, and pop it into a hot oven. Toss the asparagus in olive oil and salt and pepper, and add that to the oven, closer to serving time. When everything is done to golden perfection, the torta goes on a pretty platter with a ring of beautiful roasted asparagus tips and crunchy chopped hazelnuts!
About cooking polenta cornmeal:
This recipe gives directions for cooking polenta in the Instant Pot. For cooking it another way, follow these links: Traditional stand-at-the-stove-stirring method; the easier oven method; and how to cook polenta in the microwave.
Polenta Cauliflower Torta with Roasted Asparagus recipe notes:
- Make it vegan: Instead of the cheese, stir 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast into the polenta.
- When asparagus is not in season, try this the polenta cauliflower torta with garlicky sautéed greens.
- Marsala, a rich, smoky flavored Italian fortified wine, adds unique flavor to the onions and cauliflower, and ultimately the torta. Due to its high alcohol content, Marsala keeps a long time–I’ve nursed my bottle for years, for this and that, like zabaglione custard. If you don’t want to go out and buy a bottle, here are possible substitutes.
- Slightly fruity Aleppo pepper is milder than red pepper flakes and definitely worth having in your spice cabinet. Aleppo pepper’s subtle heat and vibrant flavor is delicious with pasta and greens too.
- If you’re making polenta cauliflower torta with roasted asparagus for Easter–don’t forget the hot cross buns!
- Inspired by the polenta torta in The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas.
Polenta cauliflower torta with roasted asparagus is part of this month’s seasonal recipe roundup, orchestrated by our friend Becky from The Vintage Mixer blog.
Be sure to check out Becky’s April post with seasonal produce and recipes–here. For more recipes showcasing seasonal fruits and veggies, see the links from a bevy of other bloggers. We hope our recipes encourage you to get in the kitchen and cook something delicious—and seasonal!
Sugar Snap Pea and Bacon Salad by Completely Delicious
BBQ Cauliflower & Chickpea Veggie Burgers by She Likes Food
Roasted Asparagus with Sautéed Shallots and Kumquats by Floating Kitchen
Asparagus Grilled Cheese by Vintage Mixer
Frittata with Ham and Asparagus by Healthy Seasonal Recipes
Easy Homemade Guacamole by Joy Food Sunshine
Sorghum Vegetable Salad with Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette by Cafe Johnsonia
Mushroom Rosemary Olive Oil Bread by Cookin’ Canuck
Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic, Gorgonzola and Walnuts by Aggie’s Kitchen
Herbed Potato Rösti with Peas, Shallots, and Bacon by Food for My Family
Maple-Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Walnut-Bacon Crumble by Simple Bites
Creamy Pasta with Salmon and Asparagus by Foodie Crush
Ultimate Veggie Sandwich with Lemon Herb Cream Cheese by Flavor the Moments
Spring Mint and Papaya Batido by Suitcase Foodist
Skillet Shrimp with Lime and Green Curry Compound Butter by Kitchen Confidante
Loaded Guacamole Tacos by Mountain Mama Cooks
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Here is a delicious meatless entrée for a celebratory dinner, that can also serve as a vegetarian side dish for brunch. Serves 8 to 10.
- 3 cups coarsely chopped cauliflower florets and their stems, from ½ head
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 to 2 sweet onions, chopped, about 3 cups
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine (see note)
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/4 cups coarse polenta cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 ounces finely grated Manchego cheese, about 1 cup (for vegan substitute, see note)
- ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 bunches asparagus
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon large flake sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup toasted hazelnuts coarsely chopped
Steam the cauliflower pieces over boiling water until they are tender but still a little firm, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté the onions on medium heat until they begin to show a bit of golden color. Stir in the steamed cauliflower, salt, and first teaspoon of thyme; raise the heat to medium high. Continue to sauté until the cauliflower begins to show color in places. Stir in the Marsala. Remove from heat and set aside.
Put the vegetable broth and water, polenta cornmeal, olive oil, salt, and Aleppo pepper in the Instant Pot. Do not stir. Lock lid. Cook on Porridge setting with time adjusted to 7 minutes. Natural pressure release for 10 minutes, then vent to release the pressure completely.
Immediately whisk the cooked onions and cauliflower, the grated cheese or nutritional yeast, and the Aleppo pepper into the polenta. Brush a round casserole or shallow bowl with olive oil, or spray with cooking spray. Spread the hot polenta cauliflower mixture into the casserole, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until set, about an hour. (At this point you can refrigerate the polenta in its dish for a day or so.)
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Lightly brush the back side of a baking sheet with oil, or spray with cooking spray. Unmold (invert) the molded polenta onto the baking sheet. Brush the top with olive oil, and bake 40 to 45 minutes, until the torta shows nice golden color. (If the uncooked torta is cold, you will need to increase the baking time 5 to 10 minutes or finish under the broiler.)
Wash the asparagus and snap off the tough ends of the stalks. Setting aside 12 pieces for the top, cut the rest in 2-inch lengths. Place on a tea towel to dry away most of the moisture, then toss both the lengths and pieces with olive oil, salt, and about 20 grinds of black pepper. Spread on a baking sheet. Roast 15 to 25 minutes, until the tips begin to blister and brown, shaking the pan halfway through. Roasting time will depend on the thickness of the stalks.
Transfer the hot polenta onto a large serving platter. Arrange the asparagus lengths on top and surround with the cut pieces. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and toasted hazelnuts.
Make it vegan: Instead of the cheese, stir 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast into the polenta.