Chances are if you grew up in the 80’s your mom made you tamale pie. It’s an inexpensive, hearty yet light, shepard’s pie latin style, family type meal that is uber conducive to leftovers. I also think it was considered “health food” which in the eighties was also considered a “fad”…well we have the last laugh, huh? My version incorporates dried chipotle peppers and fresh summer squash plus black beans stewed in garlic salsa. I (embarrassingly) made a huge 4 quart Pyrex baking dish full, but we ate on that thing for days, brought some with us tucked in our cooler just in case for our Dolores Park picnic and even served it to some guests a few days later brightened with roasted salsa and sour cream.
This tamale pie is layered – there is a stewed black bean bottom, a summer squash and red onion middle, then a thick chipotle polenta layer and topped with cheddar cheese and walnuts.
2 cups polenta corn meal
6 cups water
1 tbsp. sea salt
3 tbsp. butter
3 dried chipotle peppers
2 – 12 oz. cans black beans
1 – 16 oz. jar Muir Glen Cilantro Garlic Salsa
4 summer squash
1/4 cup sliced red onion
1 tbsp. olive oil
Toppings and Optional Garnishes
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup whole walnuts
Sour cream (optional)
Salsa of any type (optional)
Sliced avocado (optional)
You may be tempted to get the polenta out of the way first, but I would start with preparing the beans and squash, you want to polenta to be warm and malleable before you pour its layer. To prepare the beans, drain one can (you can certainly use black beans you have soaked yourself, that would be fantastically economical, but I tend to like canned for the ease and perfection) of black beans and add to a warm pan, then add the second can in its juices. Add the jar of salsa (feel free to use a plain salsa, if so please use two cloves of chopped garlic, sauteed, in addition) and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit. Next, prep the squash, slice thin, ideally with a mandolin, do the same with the red onion. Toss into a clean pan with the olive oil heated, sear on high heat, tossing the squash until a bit browned but still al dente. Remove from heat and set aside until you are ready for layering. Now you are ready to make your polenta. Boil your water with the salt, once it’s come to a rolling boil, add a quarter cup at a time, stirring between additions to the pot. Let simmer on low for about 30 minutes, make sure to stir with a long spoon because the polenta can thicken and pop. This is where you multi-tasking ability will come in handy. Pre-heat your oven to 350 F. While the polenta is cooking prep the peppers by opening them up, scraping out all the seeds and chopping them into small pieces. Heat the butter and saute the peppers in butter. Stir it in with the polenta. Layer you beans in the bottom of the pan.
With your tongs, layer the squash and onions over the beans, it’s okay if it is a thin sparse layer.
Now you are ready to spoon or pour over your polenta. Hopefully, it is still maleable and hasn’t hardened or become lumpy. No fear if it has, you will just have to spoon over in big chunks, taking a little more work and pizazz to create your layer. When the polenta is still in pourable condition you can create a smooth final layer.
Top your polenta layer with grated cheese and walnuts. Stick in the oven uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove, let cool for at least 10 minutes. Add your desired optional accouterments and munch away.