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Ottolenghi Test Kitchen’s Baked Polenta with Feta, Béchamel and Za’atar Tomatoes

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen’s Baked Polenta with Feta, Béchamel and Za’atar Tomatoes



Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad of The Ottolenghi Test Kitchen (OTK), came up with this baked polenta dish that’s covered in creamy béchamel, feta, oregano and za’atar tomatoes, for their latest cookbook,
Extra Good Things. For the uninitiated, North London-based OTK, was founded by Yotam, a New York Times best-selling cookbook author,  weekly columnist for The Guardian and owner of several restaurants. 

This dish is rich in flavour and low in gluten, making it a tasty alternative for those who can’t stomach traditional pies. Not everybody agrees on that distinction, however, “It’s not a pizza,” insisted Noor, the Bahraini-born chef and lead member of OTK, when talking with colleagues about this dish. 

While we agree with Noor, we also understand the impulse to call it a pizza — it’s covered in sumptuous toppings,  comes out of the oven with a crackly edge and has a delightfully cheesy middle. The pizza went through several names at OTK, like polenta-pizza, polizza and polenta not-a-pizza. Whatever you want to call it, it’s packed with herbal flavour from generous sprinklings of oregano and za’atar(a Middle Eastern spice mixture that includes thyme, marjoram, sumac and toasted sesame seeds). It also uses a béchamel that starts with a roux, which calls for a bit of flour. To make this pie fully gluten-free, swap gluten-free flour for all-purpose flour. The folks at OTK like to make their za’atar-baked tomatoes with the datterini variety — small Italian fruits whose name means “little dates” due to their sweetness — but cherry tomatoes work just as well. We love how quickly these cook in an Ooni, going from raw to juicy and bursting in under 5 minutes, as compared to 45 minutes in a conventional oven.

To keep this recipe fairly easy, it calls for quick-cook polenta, so make sure to check the label. While using regular polenta won’t ruin your meal, it will add an additional 30 minutes to your cook time. 

When using an Ooni, keep in mind that this recipe works best in a 16-inch gas-powered oven like Ooni Karu 16 or Ooni Koda 16. If you’d like to use a 12-inch oven, you can halve the polenta or make two batches on quarter-sheet pans. If you’re using a wood-powered oven, be sure to keep a close eye on the fire to maintain the temperature, so the polenta doesn’t burn. 

Time 
15 minutes active
1 hour 30 minutes passive
1 hour, 45 minutes total

Yield
Serves 4 to 6

Equipment 
Ooni Pizza Oven
Baking dish
Baking sheet
Parchment paper
Saucepan
Ooni Pizza Cutter Wheel or Pizza Cutter Rocker Blade 

Ingredients 
For the za’atar tomatoes: 
14 ounces (400 grams) datterini or cherry tomatoes
½ cup (120 milliliters) olive oil 
1½ tablespoon (15 milliliters) balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon (3 grams) salt
Black pepper, generous grind
2 teaspoons (8 grams) za’atar
½ teaspoons (3 grams) sugar
¼ cup (5 grams) parsley, roughly chopped
¼ cup (5 grams) oregano leaves, roughly chopped

For the béchamel:
3 tablespoons (40 grams) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons (50 grams) all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)
1 ½ cups (360 milliliters) whole milk
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon (3 grams) salt
Pepper, to taste

For the baked polenta:
1 ⅓ cups (400 milliliters) milk
1 ¼ cups (300 milliliters) water
3 tablespoons (40 grams) unsalted butter
1 ¼ teaspoons (7 grams) of salt
Grind of pepper
1 ¼ cups (200 grams) quick-cook polenta
2 ⅓  ounces (65 grams) pecorino romano, roughly grated (⅔ cup)

For assembly:
6 ⅓ ounces (180 grams) feta, roughly crumbled
¼ ounces (5 grams) oregano sprigs (try to use the softer sprigs)

Method

Preheat your Ooni oven to 290-315°C (550-600°F).

To make the za'atar tomatoes, put the tomatoes, oil, vinegar, garlic, ½ teaspoon (3 grams) of salt and a generous grind of pepper into a cast iron skillet. Place it in your Ooni and bake for 2 minutes, then rotate 180°. Bake for another 2 minutes or until the tomatoes have just burst, but aren’t completely falling apart. 

Take the baking dish out of the oven. Gently stir in the za’atar and sugar and let cool completely. Once cool, gently stir in the parsley and oregano, so as not to break up the tomatoes.

Heat your Ooni oven up to approximately 260°C (500°F), using an infrared thermometer to check the temperature of the stone. To make the béchamel, place the 3 tablespoons of butter (40 grams) into a medium saucepan and heat on medium-high. Once melted, add the flour and cook, whisking continuously for 30 seconds or until it smells like popcorn. 

Slowly pour in 1 ½ cups (360 milliliters) of milk, whisking continuously to avoid any lumps, then add the garlic, ½ teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often until it becomes thick and no longer floury tasting. 

Remove from heat and cover the saucepan with a piece of parchment paper to prevent skin from forming, set aside.

Next, prepare the polenta by adding the remaining 1 ⅓ cups (400 milliliters) of milk, water, 3 tablespoons (40 grams) of butter, 1¼ teaspoons (7 grams) of salt and a good grind of pepper to a medium saucepan and heat on medium-high.

Once the mixture starts gently bubbling, reduce heat to medium-low. Slowly add the polenta, whisking continuously to incorporate and cook for 2 minutes to thicken. 

Add the pecorino and the remaining 1½ tablespoons (14 grams) of butter and stir with a spatula until incorporated. 

Quickly transfer the polenta to the baking sheet and spread into a large oblong shape, about ½ inch (1 centimeter) thick and 15 inches (38 centimeters) long. 

Spoon the béchamel over the top and spread it to cover the entire surface, leaving a ½ inch (1½ centimeter) rim exposed around the edges. Top evenly with feta and oregano sprigs. 

Place the baking sheet in the oven and turn off the flame. Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the pan 180° then turn the flame back on. Bake for another 5 minutes. Rotate the pan again and bake for another  2 to 5 minutes, or until golden and bubbling on top, and starting to brown around the edges. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Tip: When the flame is on, watch to ensure that the feta and bechamel don’t burn. If your edges start to look a little crispy or burnt, cut the flame for a few minutes. If cooking with wood, open the door. 

Spoon half of the za’atar tomatoes on top of the baked polenta, and serve the rest in a bowl with the meal. Use a pizza cutter to easily cut the polenta into slabs and serve warm.

Tip: Keep the rest of the tomatoes in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Try them on bruschetta or as a sauce for pasta.

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