Anna Thomas's 1970s book, The Vegetarian Epicure, is iconic; updated in the '90s and rechristened The New Vegetarian Epicure, it focuses on recipes for entertaining. One of her latest dishes is this crusty baked polenta, swirled with mashed butternut squash and smoked Gouda cheese.
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One 2-pound butternut squash—peeled, seeded and sliced 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups water
2 cups coarse polenta
4 ounces smoked Gouda, shredded (1 cup)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
How to Make It
Preheat the oven to 375°. Arrange the squash on a large oiled baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, until tender. Transfer the squash to a bowl and mash coarsely. (You should have about 1 1/2 cups.) Spread the pine nuts on a pie plate and toast in the oven for 4 minutes, until golden. Coarsely chop the nuts.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and sage and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, 25 minutes; add a few tablespoons of water if the onion looks dry.
In a saucepan, bring the 6 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in the polenta and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook over very low heat, stirring frequently, until tender, about 35 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of butter along with the mashed squash, pine nuts, onion, Gouda and half of the grated Parmigiano cheese. Pour the hot polenta into a buttered large cast-iron skillet. Flatten the top of the polenta slightly without spreading it to the edges; refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.
Rub the surface of the polenta with softened butter and sprinkle with the remaining grated Parmigiano cheese. Bake in a 375° oven for 1 hour, until the top and side are lightly browned and crisp. Let stand for 20 minutes before cutting it into wedges.
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