Beet-Infused Polenta Tartelettes with Caramelized Onions and Grilled Eggplant (GF)

Before making these tartelettes, I never could have imagined that I would ever see, let alone make, pink polenta. The polenta's change in hue was utterly unplanned - an act of complete spontaneity. That little remainder of beet ravioli filling was calling to me, so I thought, why not? It is remarkable how little beet it takes to color an entire dish. A few tablespoons of beet purée that had already been diluted with farmer cheese was all it took to transform the polenta from its typical sunshine-yellow hue to a bright almost bubblegum-like pink. Perched atop a net of vibrant orange squash and topped with purple eggplant and fresh green basil, the polenta tarts certainly made for a colorful meal.
Now the only problem with such a colorful dish is that the flavor has to measure up to the presentation. If the flavors are even the least bit dull, the diner is left feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. In this case, the taste was even bolder than the colors. The roasted garlic clove that I had blended into the polenta gave it a deep, garlicky flavor. The eggplant was soft and perfectly salty. Underneath the eggplant, a mound of caramelized onions and dollop of pesto brought the flavors to a whole new level. And that little sprig of basil added just a touch of freshness to the plate. 
Many adjustments could also be made to simplify the recipe. The polenta, for instance, could remain yellow. It could be flavored with raw garlic, rather than roasted. The criss-cross pattern of squash could be replaced by a simple dollop or could even be omitted. The onions could be quickly sautéed instead of being caramelized. As the chef, you will have many opportunities to make my experiment your own.
Happy cooking!

Beet-Infused Polenta Tartelettes with Caramelized Onions and Grilled Eggplant (GF)
Makes 3-4 tartelettes, or one 9-inch tart. 
   1 cup instant polenta 
   1 cup milk
   1/2 cup chicken broth
   1 1/2 cups water
   1/4 cup + 3-4 tsp grated parmesan
   2 smallish cloves roasted garlic (or raw garlic)
   3 tbsp beet purée (optional)
   4 tbsp olive oil
   1 large eggplant
   3 tbsp sea salt
   1 medium onion
   1 tbsp brown sugar
   1 cup puréed squash (optional)
   3-4 tsp pesto
   3-4 sprigs basil (depending on how many tartelettes you make)
   Salt and pepper to taste
Begin by cutting the eggplant into smallish chunks. Place the chunks in a large sieve set over a bowl. Toss them in the sea salt and allow them to sit for an hour. This allows them to release their bitter liquid and is an essential step.
While the eggplant sits, prepare the polenta. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, and chicken broth to a simmer. Add the polenta gradually in a steady stream, whisking constantly so that it doesn't clump. Continue to whisk once all the polenta has been added. It will cook quickly and spatter if it is not whisked constantly. Add the parmesan and use a garlic press to add the garlic. Whisk to combine. Remove from heat and whisk in the beet purée until the color is even. 
Grease 3-4 miniature quiche/tart pans. Add 1/3-1/2 cup of polenta to each tart shell. Allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes to firm up a bit. Shape the polenta with a spoon so that there is an indent in the middle and the sides reach up to the top of the quiche/tart pan. 
 Heat the oven to 400˚F. Place the polenta-filled tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Peel your onion and slice it into thin slices. A mandoline makes this step very easy. In a small frying pan (preferably lined with teflon), add 2 tbsp of olive oil and the brown sugar. Add the onion slices and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they don't burn. Cook them until they are a caramel brown and are soft and slightly sticky. 
Into each polenta tartelette, place a teaspoon of pesto and smear it around a bit. Add a dollop of caramelized onions to each and press down slightly. 
Heat the oven to 400˚F and bake the tarts for another 15 minutes.
While the tartelettes bake, set a large non-stick frying pan with the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Rinse the eggplant chunks in the water to remove any excess salt and dump them into the frying pan. Sauté them until they are soft and slightly browned, but not burnt. 
To make the optional squash design, fill a piping bag fit with a narrow, round piping tip with puréed squash. Pipe lines across the plate, then turn the plate 90˚ and pipe another set of lines perpendicular to the others. 
When the tartelettes are finished baking, remove them from the oven and allow them to sit for 5-10 minutes. Carefully push the metal base up through the tart ring. Hold the tart by the metal base over the plate, and carefully slide the tart off the base onto the center of the plate. Do this with each tart. Top each tart with a generous spoonful of grilled eggplant and a sprig of basil.
Bon appétit! 


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