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Polenta Cauliflower Torta with Roasted Asparagus

Salty crisp-tender asparagus alongside golden satiny cornmeal, polenta cauliflower torta with asparagus is simple Italian comfort food turned elegant. Hello spring!

Polenta Cauliflower Torta with Roasted Asparagus | Letty's Kitchen

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. 
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Plated Polenta Cauliflower Torta with Roasted Asparagus | Letty's Kitchen

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.

Cauliflower and Onions ready to whisk into polenta Polenta Cauliflower Torta with Roasted Asparagus | Letty's Kitchen

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!
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About cooking polenta cornmeal:

This recipe gives directions for cooking polenta in the Instant Pot. For cooking polenta without an Instant Pot, follow these links: Traditional stand-at-the-stove-stirring method; the easier oven method; and how to cook polenta in the microwave.

one slice of Polenta Cauliflower Torta with Roasted Asparagus | Letty's Kitchen

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, a feasible substitute is 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine mixed with 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar. For a non-alcoholic substitute, use 1 1/2 tablespoons white grape plus 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar. Here are other 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.

#Eat Seasonal:

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

April Seasonal Recipes for Polenta Cauliflower Torta with Roasted Asparagus | Letty's Kitchen

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5 from 3 votes
Polenta Cauliflower Torta with Roasted Asparagus | Letty's Kitchen
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Polenta Cauliflower Torta with Roasted Asparagus
Prep Time
35 mins
Cook Time
45 mins
Total Time
1 hr 20 mins
 

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.

Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Servings: 10 people
Author: Letty's Kitchen
Ingredients
  • 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)
The polenta:
  • 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
To serve:
  • 2 bunches asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon large flake sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup toasted hazelnuts coarsely chopped
Instructions
  1. 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.

  2. 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.
The polenta:
  1. Put the vegetable broth and water, polenta cornmeal, olive oil, salt, and Aleppo pepper in the Instant Pot. (If you do not have an Instant Pot, see the links below for 2 other ways to cook polenta.)  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.

  2. 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. Alternatively, pour the polenta into a well-oiled 10-inch springform pan. 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.)

  3. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
To serve:
  1. 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.
Recipe Notes
  • Make it vegan: Instead of the cheese, stir 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast into the polenta.
  • For cooking polenta without an Instant Pot, follow these links: Traditional stand-at-the-stove-stirring method; the easier oven method; and how to cook polenta in the microwave.
  • A feasible substitute for sweet marsala is 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine mixed with 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar. For non-alcoholic substitute, use 1 1/2 tablespoons white grape plus 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar.

18 comments

  • What a creative recipe! We love polenta around here, so I am sure your torta would be a hit. Reply · 3 April, 2017

    • Thank you Aimee! This torta is also delicious with sautéed garlicky greens. Reply · 3 April, 2017

  • Oooo….I enjoy creamy polenta fairly often, but love the idea of shaping it into a slice-able torta! Perfect for Easter or Mother’s Day! Reply · 3 April, 2017

  • This is such a gorgeous dish Letty! I love polenta and don’t make it often enough. I need to give this a try! Reply · 3 April, 2017

    • Marcie–polenta has long been an easy go-to for me because I’ve always cooked it in the microwave. 15 minutes total and done. Now I don’t have to use the micro, since I figured out how to Instant Pot! Like risotto, I have never cooked polenta the stove-top forever stirring method! (Face palm.) Reply · 3 April, 2017

  • I think you just solved my polenta problem! Whenever I try to fry it to get it crispy, it spatters all over the place. I’d almost given up in despair. Baking! I’m going to have to try this ASAP. Reply · 3 April, 2017

    • Lydia. I cut any leftovers into wedges, then pan-fry them for extra crispiness! Reply · 3 April, 2017

  • What a cool technique to make this festive entree! How creative! Reply · 4 April, 2017

  • Oh my goodness, I have to make this as soon as possible! (I’m going a cleanse right now – no polenta for a few weeks…boo.) I love that you cook polenta in a microwave! I have scars from the burns of it bubbling up as I stir. The presentation is just beautiful! Reply · 4 April, 2017

    • Thank you Lindsey. I sometimes feel guilty cooking polenta in the micro–but it is soooo easy. The instant pot is almost as easy but…. Reply · 4 April, 2017

  • I’ve only cooked with polenta once before and I keep telling myself I need to use it again soon. This polenta torta is such a great idea and I love all the added seasonal produce! Reply · 6 April, 2017

    • Thanks Izzy. Polenta is a wonderful base for so many different foods. I like to make a polenta lasagne casserole too. Reply · 7 April, 2017

  • Wendy

    This was delicious! Our family is not vegetarian, I used chicken broth and I added shredded cooked chicken to the polenta. Because I didn’t have time to refrigerate the polenta, I poured the mixture into a cheesecake pan and baked it that way. It turned out perfect. I will probably always make it that way! Reply · 10 April, 2017

    • Thank you for writing Wendy! I think I will make it in a cheesecake pan next time. Good punt! Reply · 10 April, 2017

  • This seems like a healthy and palatable lunch idea, Letty! Thanks a bunch for giving me the perfect idea for my next lunch! Reply · 11 April, 2017

    • Thanks Agness! I love a wedge of this polenta cold–for lunch the next day!! Reply · 11 April, 2017

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