For a meal that sings the praises of late summer produce, look no further than fresh tomatoes and beans tossed in a spiced oil, spooned over polenta. Relying mostly on pantry staples (oil, seeds and spices, canned beans, instant polenta, capers), this meal is a snap to put together. With a good bottle of wine, it makes any weeknight feel a little special; as the recipe happens to be both vegan and gluten-free, it’s also a great solution for a last-minute dinner party.
Fry thinly sliced garlic in olive oil until crisp. While the oil’s still hot, sizzle fennel or cumin seeds, sesame seeds, mild chile flakes and briny capers until the oil takes on a reddish hue. This makes a fragrant base for the main event: tomatoes and beans. Brighten things up with a splash of fresh lemon juice, then spoon the juicy mixture over bowls of softly cooked polenta. To save time, here I use canned beans (though if you’d prefer, cook 1 cup of dry beans until tender) and instant polenta.
Some may turn up their noses at instant polenta. To them, I say: Fine, if you’d rather stand by a pot and stir for 40 minutes, please be my guest. But I prefer to save that practice for wintery meals, when it’s too cold and dark at dinnertime to do anything better. On these precious few late August and early September evenings, when tomatoes are still at their peak but the oppressive heat has diminished, I’d rather spend more time lingering at the dinner table, preferably outside. When cooked in well-salted boiling water, instant polenta is perfectly tasty—and takes less than five minutes from start to finish. I typically use a ratio of 4 cups of water to 1 cup polenta, but it’s always best to follow the instructions on the package.
A crisp white wine is my preference for this meal, such as the 2017 Meinklang White Burgenland. This aromatic blend of Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling and Muscat from Austria pairs delightfully with the subtle heat from the oil, and its bright acidity complements the sweet tomatoes. It scored 88 points and is $16 a bottle. With recent vintages available at many purveyors, this wine is perfect to grab whether you’re on the way home or heading out to a friend’s.
Spiced Tomatoes and Beans on Polenta
Pair with a white wine that’s slightly acidic on the palate and floral on the nose to echo, not compete with, the fragrant, ripe tomatoes, such as the 2017 Meinklang White Burgenland (88 points, $16) or a more recent vintage.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Approximate food costs: $14
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon fennel or cumin seeds, or a mix
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon mild chile flakes, such as Aleppo-style (or 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes)
- 1 tablespoon capers in brine, drained
- 1 lemon
- 2 to 2 1/2 pounds mixed tomatoes, sliced, quartered, or halved into bite-sized pieces
- 2 (15.5-ounce) cans white beans, such as cannellini or navy, or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup instant polenta
- Freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the sliced garlic and oil in a small saucepan. Turn on the heat to medium and cook, swirling the pot regularly, until the garlic turns golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the garlic chips. Place on a plate and season with salt.
2. Add the fennel and/or cumin seeds, sesame seeds, chile flakes and capers to the oil. (It’s still hot, even though the heat is off.) Swirl the pan as the seeds sizzle and the oil takes on a reddish hue, about 2 minutes.
3. Pour the spiced oil into a medium bowl and zest the lemon into the bowl. Slice the lemon in half. Slice half of the lemon into wedges for serving and juice the other half into the bowl. Gently toss the tomatoes, beans and 1 teaspoon salt into the bowl. Season with more salt to taste. Let this sit while you make the polenta.
4. Cook the polenta to a soft texture in well-salted boiling water, according to the package directions. Season with lots of black pepper, then divide between shallow bowls or plates. Top each serving with a scoop of the oiled tomatoes and beans and a few garlic chips. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing. Serves 4.