Buckwheat and Cornmeal Polenta Baked Marcella’s Way

La Polenta Taragna al Forno alla Mia Maniera

The first tomato sauce I ever cooked in my life is, to this day, one of my family s favorites and, I am told, one of the most popular with my students and with many of my readers. Perhaps because it is so simple: It is just tomato, butter, and a whole onion. No chopping, no sautéing; it practically cooks itself, and to me, it has the clearest, sweetest taste of any tomato sauce.

I often have some in the refrigerator to satisfy any sudden yearnings for it that may manifest themselves. On a day that I had made a lot of polenta taragna, I had the sauce in the refrigerator and I thought to bake some polenta with it. If you enjoy the pure taste of a simple tomato sauce, and appreciate the distinctive flavor of this particular polenta, you will find that the two do very nice things for each other.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • 2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeds scooped out, and cut up, or 2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • 4 tablespoons butter plus more to smear the baking dish
  • Salt
  • Cold polenta, half the recipe
  • cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

An oven-to-table baking dish

Method

  1. Turn on the oven to 400°.
  2. Put the onion, tomatoes, and 4 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, add salt, and bring to a slow simmer. Cook at that slow simmer, with bubbles gently breaking through the surface of the sauce, for 45 minutes, or until the fat begins to separate from the sauce, as described in the Note. Stir once every while, mashing any large piece of tomato in the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion.
  3. Cut the polenta into narrow rectangles, about 1 by 3 inches.
  4. Lightly smear an oven-to-table baking dish with butter and lay down the polenta pieces it, slightly overlapping them, shingle-fashion.
  5. Spread the tomato sauce over the polenta, sprinkle with the grated Parmesan, and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Allow to settle briefly, about a minute or two, before serving.

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