Polenta and Veggie Bites with Honeyed Cheese
This polenta appetizer is one you can have a lot of fun with. You start with polenta squares that you cook or grill, add a dollop of cheese mashed with some honey and a bit of herbs, and finish with a roasted or slowly caramelized vegetable. Below are several options, but once you try this, you will concoct all kinds of variations. You can use one or all three vegetables and one or both of the cheese mixtures.
Three Vegetable Options
Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Gorgonzola and Honey
Start with my recipe for slow-roasted tomatoes. You can make these a couple days in advance. They take 5 minutes of preparation, but you need to let them slow-roast in the oven for 3-4 hours to really concentrate their flavors. The good news is this method of roasting takes mediocre winter tomatoes and makes them outstanding.
Note: Balsamic vinegar comes in a wide arrange of price points. Use an inexpensive balsamic vinegar to slow-cook the peppers. If you want you can splash a bit of higher quality, aged balsamic on the peppers when they are finished to give them a little extra pizazz.
Melted Red Peppers with Goat Cheese, Honey and Fresh Rosemary
These are my personal favorite. You start by slow-cooking the red peppers in balsamic and olive oil. 45 minutes later you have intensely flavored, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth strips of pepper.
Caramelized onions with honeyed blue cheese or goat cheese
Caramelize your onions a day or two in advance by following this recipe.
Two Honeyed Cheese Options
Honeyed Goat Cheese & Thyme
Roughly mash up a log of goat cheese, honey and fresh thyme so that you have veins of honey running throughout the cheese. Do not over-combine.
Honeyed Blue Cheese & Rosemary
Roughly mash honey and fresh rosemary into softened gorgonzola or cambozola blue cheese, so that you have veins of honey running through the mashed cheese. Do not over combine.
You can use any type of pre-cooked polenta, but I use Polenta Valsugana. I add 50% more water than the package instructs and like the texture that results. Once the polenta is made, you spread it in a baking pan and allow it to set up for 15 to 20 minutes. Slice it and pan cook or grill it. Preparing the polenta can also be done several hours or even a day in advance.
This recipe makes 30 appetizers, 10 of each variation. You can adjust the toppings and cheese combinations according to your preference.
Note: The prep time for making this appetizer does not include making the roasted tomatoes or caramelizing the onions. I recommend you roast the tomatoes a day or two in advance.
Polenta and veggie bites with honeyed cheese
Yield 48 appetizers
These make-ahead polenta appetizers are delicious and healthy. Grilled polenta is smeared with honeyed cheese and topped with slow cooked tomatoes, caramelized onions and melted peppers.
- 4 red bell peppers (2.5 to 3 pounds), sliced into 1/4" strips
- 1/4 c olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (cooking quality)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups polenta Valsugana or other comparable fast-cooking polenta
- 1 T salt
- 9 cups of water
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 11 ounces goat cheese
- 1/3 pound gorgonzola or cambozola cheese
- 4 heaping T honey, divided
- 1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 T fresh thyme, chopped
- 10 slow-roasted tomato halves (see linked recipe above)
- 3/4 cup caramelized onions
- 10 strips of prosciutto (optional)
- In a saute pan, heat olive oil and balsamic and add pepper strips. Stir to coat and turn heat down to low. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes, until peppers are soft and beginning to caramelize on the edges. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Bring water and 1 T of salt to a boil in a sauce pan. Stir in 2 cups of polenta and turn down heat to medium low. Cook, stirring almost continuously for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in grated parmesan cheese. Spread polenta in a 18" x 13" jelly roll pan that has been lightly rubbed with olive oil. Let the polenta sit for 15 - 20 minutes.
- While polenta is setting up, roughly mash goat cheese, 2 T honey and thyme in a bowl. Don't over mix. There should be veins of honey running through the cheese.
- In a second bowl, roughly mash the gorgonzola, rosemary and honey together, also leaving veins of honey that are not fully incorporated into the cheese.
- When the polenta is set and firm, slice the pans of polenta into 30 squares.
- Heat a non-stick griddle or large skillet and cook the polenta squares over medium heat about 8 minutes on each side, until they begin to turn light golden brown. Remove and place on serving trays.
- On 10 of the polenta squares, smear with herbed cheese and place a roasted tomato half on top. On 10 of the remaining polenta squares, put a dollop of herbed cheese and twirl a few strips of the peppers on top of the cheese. On the 10 remaining polenta squares, put a dollop of herbed cheese and top with caramelized onions. Serve at warm or at room temperature.
You can add an optional twirl of prosciutto to the polenta squares. Cut a few inch piece of prosciutto and twirl it into a rose shape. Place it on top of the cheese and then top with one of the three vegetables.