Tamales are incredibly popular around here likely in part because we're so close to the Mexican border. The downside is they're a tremendous amount of work to make from scratch and unless you're into some sort of "flashmob" scene for extra hands when you're making them, most of us "locals" settle for a tamale pie instead. I've been known to make it from time to time myself and it usually involves a chili like base with a cornbread topping; however, this multi layer version's so darn good it puts the others to shame.
It starts with the filling which is really all about the sauce. Tomatoes, onion, garlic and an anaheim pepper blackened in a hot cast iron pan and then pureed along with some spices and chicken stock is reduced and joined by browned ground pork and black olives and raisins for sweetness, jalapeno and chile in adobo for smoke and heat.
Sandwiched between layers of rich creamy polenta it hits a springform pan and bakes for 30 minutes. It is finished with a sprinkling of cheese, a few more minutes in a hot oven and ends up looking like this.
Sliced and plated with fresh salsa and a dab of guacamole along with a crispy tossed salad, it makes for a fabulous weeknight meal. Best part of the whole thing - you can prep it all in advance and serve it warm or cold which is really what you'd want to do unless you're blessed like I am and not working outside the home. Start to finish it is rather labor intensive unless you divide the tasks up but is it worth it you ask? You bet your ever lovin' mariachis it is!
Polenta Tamale Torte (adapted from High Plains, The Joy of Alberta Cuisine by Cinda Chavich)
1 pound ground pork
1/2 large onion, quartered
1 medium Anaheim pepper whole
4 roma tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped black olives
2 tablespoons chopped raisins
1 jalapeno, minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo, chopped along with 1 teaspoon sauce
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Place onion, Anaheim pepper, tomatoes and garlic in a cast iron skillet and heat over high heat to blacken vegetables. Turn vegetables carefully with tongs to ensure they’re well blackened. Be careful with the tomatoes, because they could explode! After vegetables are black on the outside, peel garlic and tomatoes and remove stem and seeds from pepper. Place in food processor with onion, cinnamon, oregano, pepper and chicken broth and process until smooth. Set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add pork and cook, crumbling with a fork, until meat is well browned and no longer pink. Remove from pan and set aside (drain in a colander if pork is fatty). Add olive oil to sauté pan and add sauce. Simmer over medium heat until just starting to thicken. Add black olives, raisins, jalapeno and chipotle as well as browned pork. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until very thick. Stir in parsley and set aside.
4 cups water, divided
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup coarsely ground polenta or cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup grated parmesan, divided
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
Put 3 cups cold water in a heavy pot. Add salt and whisk in cornmeal slowly. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until mixture is thick – about 10 minutes. Carefully whisk in 1 cup cold water, lower heat to simmer and continue to cook polenta, uncovered until soft and creamy and there are no hard grains. Watch carefully so polenta doesn’t burn, stir often and be sure to put a splatter screen over top so it doesn’t “blurp” all over your stove. When cooked, stir in half the parmesan cheese, the butter and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 10 inch spring form pan with cooking spray. Place half the cooked polenta on the bottom of the pan and spread it out evenly. Top with all of the filling and finish with a layer of polenta. Spread it evenly. Cover pan with foil and place pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover, sprinkle cheese on top and bake for additional 10 minutes. Finish under the broiler to brown the cheese if you wish. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes before removing sides of the pan. Slice into wedges and serve with salsa and guacamole on the side. Serves 6 to 8.
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