Savory Vegan Torta di Polenta

Lidia Bastianich was a cooking goddess on PBS long before there was a Food Network. She is the Italian Nonna (Grandma) we all wish we had. 
Just like the comfort of a grandmother, this Torta di Polenta (polenta cake) is the ultimate comfort food. Filled with creamy potatoes, sweet, salty cabbage, and melty vegan feta, will make you swoon.


You can make the components of this dish a day or two before a party, then assemble it and bake it the day of. It does need to cool an hour or two before serving. So, though it's not a difficult dish to make, it does take a bit of planning.

Special tools: You will need a 9 inch springform pan to make this dish.

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Recipe


Part one: The Polenta

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups coarse ground corn meal
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6.5 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt


Method:
  • Bring salted water to a boil. Add bay leaf.
  • Gradually add corn meal, sifting it through your fingers and stirring as you do to ensure you don't get lumps. 
  • Cook the polenta on low heat, stirring every 10 minutes to keep it smooth. It should slowly "plop" like lava. 
  • You want a stiff polenta, so let it cook a good 40-45 minutes.
  • Pour the polenta into your springform pan and let it cool for an hour on the counter, then cover and chill 6+ hours in the fridge. I made mine the day before and chilled it overnight.


Watch Lidia make polenta in this 20-second video.


Part 2: The filling


Ingredients for savory vegan torta di polentaIngredients:

  • 2 medium russet potatoes cut into 6-8 chunks each
  • 1 small head of green cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T salt + more for seasoning
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 large garlic cloves roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme
  • Your favorite vegan cheese. I used the Violife feta (which is a lot more like a chevre) and it came out great. I might add the smoked provolone (pictured) on top next time. I used a whole package of the feta.
  • Optional 1 T olive oil for sautéing. 
Method:
  • Boil potatoes in salted water 15-20 minutes till fork tender.
  • While potatoes cook. Sauté cabbage over medium heat with garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. 
  • I recommend using a lot of pepper. It compliments the cabbage beautifully. 
  • You can "steam fry" with water for a no-oil version or use olive oil. You want the cabbage to caramelize so it's golden brown. This will bring out the sweetness of it. You also want to cook out as much water as possible.
  • Drain the potatoes and put them in a large mixing bowl. You want lots of room for this next step.
  • Add in cooked cabbage mixture and stir it around. As you do, the potatoes will begin to mash into the cabbage. You want some lumps in the potatoes though, so don't be too vigorous.
  • You can move on to assembly or refrigerate the filling until you are ready to assemble the cake.
Part 3: Assembly and Baking
  • Preheat your oven to 400F
  • If you use the Violife feta, prep the cheese by dividing it into thirds. Slice each third into 1/4 inch thick slices.
  • If you use a sliced cheese like the provolone, just divide it into thirds.
  • Open the springform pan and carefully slice the polenta cake into three even discs (about 1/2 to 3/4 inch in thickness).
  • Gently ease the top two discs onto a plate.
  • Divide the potato cabbage mixture in half. Put half over the bottom polenta disc. 
  • Evenly distribute 1/3 of your cheese over the top of this layer.
  • Gently place the next disc of polenta over the top of the cheese.
  • Repeat with the second half of the potato cabbage filling, another third of the cheese, and the final polenta disc.
  • Top with the last third of the cheese (next time, I think I will divide the feta in two, using half over each layer of filling, and then add provolone on top because CHEESE!).
  • Bake for 40 minutes on the center rack, then move to the top rack and broil 2-4 minutes to get the top browned and bubbly.


LET IT COOL!

Seriously. 2-3 hours on the counter. It will fall apart otherwise. Go get a massage or pull those pesky weeds. Do something to take your mind off of how much you want to eat this NOW. 

Also, put the whole thing on a plate lined with paper towels. It will leak moisture. And that's okay. It's just crying because who knew life could be this good.

When you are ready to unveil your masterpiece, Remove the ring of the springform pan and serve directly on the bottom part. Practice taking bows for when all the ooohs and ahhhs come from your guests.

If you have any leftover (snort), put the ring back and cover it with foil. It would probably taste even better the next day. But I doubt I will ever find out.

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