Tartine-Style Polenta Cornbread and Tomato Sauces

Mix it till it looks like quicksand, he’d say.

Till it moves like a slow song sounds.

Patricia Smith’s description of making cornbread with her father is perfect. Dough churning like a slow song sounds, smooth but with grit and fleck. I’ve made cornbread so many many ways. In waffles with chili, on a skillet with bacon and grease Southern style, in a pan, square and clean Northern style, and as sponge for beef au jus, the Lombardy pan giallo way. I’ve been overcome in recent weeks by the Tartine style of making bread. I use my sourdough starter for the levain and follow their simple hydration and bakers percentages. The bread has a simplicity that bespeaks perfection. As cornbread, it is paradoxically airy and hearty. The flavors of pumpkin seed and rosemary stain it with autumn. It tastes like a slow song sounds.

polenta tartine2

Tartine-Style Polenta Cornbread

Adapted from the Tartine bread book

Make Basic Country bread dough

1 cup pumpkin seeds

1 cup polenta

2 cups boiling water

3 TB olive oil

1 TB rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 and spread the pumpkin seeds evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake seeds until they begin to turn light brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool. In a bowl, stir the polenta with the boiling hot water and set aside for 10 minutes or until cool. Stir in the oil, rosemary, and pumpkin seeds into the polenta.

polenta mush

Add this yummy stuff to the dough after a second turn in Step 5 of the Country Bread recipe (like above). Complete the remainder of the Tartine bread recipe as directed, but you may add a little extra flour as the polenta makes the dough very, very wet.

polenta tartine

You know what goes great with corn bread? Tomato anything. If tomatoes were lava, my backyard would be the Pacific Rim. Immense tomato eruption this summer, and still spewing. Pretty soon I’m going to get to canning, but for the time being, I’m trying to keep up with the harvest by cooking tomatoes into sauces, soups and stews.

tomato basil sauce tomato basil sauce and soup

Tomato Basil Sauce

Adapted from Cooks Country

2 tbsp butter

¼ cup chopped onion

1 tsp oregano

2 garlic cloves

30 oz crushed tomatoes (about one mixing bowl full)

½ tsp sugar

3 TB basil

1 TB olive oil

Melt butter in saucepan. Add onion, a pinch of salt, oregano, and cook until onions are carmelized. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes and sugar, bring to a simmer. Then reduce heat until thickened slightly, about 10-15 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil and oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add roasted red pepper flakes if you like a little zing!


tomato soup sauce

Tomato Soup with Feta, Olives, and Cucumbers

Adapted from Food and Wine

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

3/4 cup pitted Niçoise olives

2 tablespoons oregano leaves

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Kosher salt

1 small Kirby cucumber, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon honey

5 tomatoes, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

2 ounces feta cheese, preferably Greek, crumbled (1/2 cup)

Baby greens, for garnish

In a medium saucepan, heat the 6 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion, olives and oregano and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in both vinegars. Season with salt. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the cucumber with 1/2 tablespoon of the honey and season with salt.

In a blender, puree the chopped tomatoes with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of honey and season generously with salt and pepper.

Pour the soup into shallow bowls. Top with the onion-olive mixture, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices and feta. Drizzle with olive oil, garnish with baby greens and serve.


I actually didn’t like this soup at all, so I boiled it all down into tomato sauce, which tasted great with the olives and such. I scoop heaping gobs of tomato sauce onto toasted slices of tartine polenta, and watch autumn leaves fall onto red-studded vines flopped over their cages like a jewelry store display.

As seen in this month’s edition of Sourdough Surprises.


6 thoughts on “Tartine-Style Polenta Cornbread and Tomato Sauces

  1. Wow…the bread looks fantastic! I can’t love homemade tomato soup without a little savory, either. Try a couple of squirts of anchovy paste…you won’t taste the fish, at all, but it makes the soup. Love you and your cooking, Meem

  2. What a delectable sounding combination, the elements you included in this bread! Excited to try my hand at it for an autumn feast one of these days.

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