Entertaining friends and family over a beautiful home-cooked feast is something I truly look forward to because it is the best way to make someone feel welcomed. To me, hospitality not only includes offering your best presentable dishes; it also includes incorporating your guests’ personal list of what they eat or don’t eat. Sometimes this might mean that I have to work outside my comfort zone, choosing ingredients that I’ve never worked with before or preparing dishes that I wouldn’t normally choose to eat.
Although I am definitely a carnivore, I am meeting more and more people who are vegetarian or vegan for various reasons. Sometimes I adapt to these idiosyncrasies by omitting or substituting ingredients, but I wasn’t always happy with the final results. This recipe is a vegetarian’s main course and delight, with big flavor from the roasted Kabochi squash and slow cooked red onions.
1 2-lb Kabocha squash, halved
2 tbsp olive oil
5 cups vegetable broth
2 1/2 cups coarse cornmeal polenta
2 1/4 lb red onions, thinly sliced
Sea salt to taste
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tbsp Madeira wine or sweet sherry
Position an oven rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 375oF. Cut the squash in half. Roast the squash, cut side down, on a lightly oiled rimmed baking sheet for 45 minutes or until tender. Scoop the flesh from the skins and mash it with a potato masher or fork. You should have more than 2 cups, but you only need 2 cups.
Bring the vegetable broth and 1 quart water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Slowly pour in the polenta, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until the polenta begins to thicken (approx 2 minutes). Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until the polenta is tender (approx 40 minutes).
Stir 2 cups of the mashed Kabochi into the polenta. Season to taste with salt.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften.
Add the thyme and paprika, and then reduce the heat to medium low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are reduced to about 1/3 their original volume and resemble jam (approx 40 to 50 minutes).
Uncover, increase the heat to medium-high, and add the wine. Cook until wine is absorbed. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Oil a 10-inch springform pan. While the polenta mixture is still hot and soft, spoon half of it into the pan and spread it out evenly. Spread the onion over the polenta evenly. Spoon the remaining polenta on top of the onions and spread it evenly. Score the top lightly with a fork. Chill in the refrigerator until very firm (at least 2 hours). Alternatively, if you do not have a springform pan, you can use two meatloaf pans lined with parchment paper to easily lift the tart after it is firm..
Preheat the oven to 350oF. Run a knife along the side of the springform pan to loosen the tart. Remove the side of the springform pan and use two large spatulas or a cake lifter to transfer the tart to an ovenproof serving plate. Bake until heated through (approx 40 minutes).
To make ahead, you can assemble the tart in the springform pan up to 2 days ahead and store refrigerated and tightly wrapped in plastic. Let it sit on a baking sheet at room temperature for an hour before baking.