Sunday, 8 August 2010

Holidays on a fork

Why do the calming, positive effects of holidays wear off so quickly? When our regulars saunter in for a takeaway coffee after returning from holiday all relaxed, suntanned and smiling it only seems to take a couple of days before their eyes are glued to their blackberries again and they are rushing in and out, stressing about work.

It also didn’t take long for my holiday freckles and ‘perche no’ attitude to fade after a trip to Italy a few weeks ago.

Photographs are a poor substitute for the actual experience of sitting in my gin and tonic chair

pulling vegetables for dinner from my friend’s garden

and walking through Italian villages post siesta

But one of the wonderful things about cooking, is that I can hold on to the smells and taste of Italy in a more satisfying way. With the daylight hours starting to get shorter in London and my next holiday a small dot on a distant horizon, I’m feeling in need of a forkful of Italy.

Of all the meals I ate in Italy these stood out for their classic Italian-ness; good quality ingredients, simple flavour combinations, served without fuss.

A rocket and pecorino salad with toasted walnuts and honey

And polenta served in a way I’ve never seen before – almost like a pasta dish.

Baked polenta with tomato sauce

Baked polenta (6 serves)

200g instant polenta

1 tsp salt

1 litre water

1 tbls oil

75g grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 200C. Oil and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. In a small pan bring the water and salt to the boil. Pour in the polenta gradually, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon to prevent large lumps forming. Reduce the heat and keep stirring for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the oil and two thirds of the parmesan. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Spread the polenta mix evenly across the prepared baking tray so you get a layer 1.5cm to 2cm deep. Leave to cool.

Once it has cooled, tip the set polenta onto a board and cut into triangles then cut a third of the triangles into smaller bite sized pieces. Use the other half two thirds for other recipes- like the mushroom one below.

Tomato sauce (enough for 2 serves)

400g can plum tomatoes

olive oil

1 fat clove of garlic sliced thinly

little dried chilli

basil leaves

pecorino cheese

Fry garlic in olive oil over a gentle heat until it just starts to colour (don’t let it brown or it will become bitter). Add tomatoes, chilli and salt and pepper. Break up tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Turn heat right down, put a lid on the pan and leave sauce to cook for 30minutes to an hour until it is nice and thick. Add a good handful of torn basil leaves.

Put the polenta pieces on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Place in a preheated oven for about 10 minutes to heat through.

To serve, spoon the sauce over the polenta in bowls and top with grated pecorino.

Polenta with sauteed mushrooms and goat’s cheese (2 serves)

500g mushrooms

1 tbls butter

1 tbls olive oil

good splash of verjuice


goats cheese

Slice mushrooms. Heat oil and butter in pan. Add mushrooms and toss over high heat until they brown lightly. Add verjuice and remove from the heat. Stir through parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Heat fry pan with a tablespoon of olive oil until it gets quite hot. Fry polenta triangles in batches for a couple of minutes each side until golden brown. Place polenta on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Spoon some of the mushroom mixture over each triangle then crumble some goat's cheese over the top. Bake in the oven for a couple of minutes until cheese melts.

Bon appetito.


Lapinbizarre said...

Just made your polenta with tomato sauce recipe, using stone-ground blue corn-meal (maize). It worked exceedingly well, with excellent flavour and an unusual, attractive purplish colour, though the husks were still discernible - not annoyingly so - after 2 1/2 hours of gentle cooking. Sieving before adding the parmesan would be a possibility, though I won't bother to do this when I make it again. I may allow an extra 30 minutes cooking, tho'.

Ground maize, aka "grits", is standard breakfast fare in the SE USA, where I live. Started, I assume, as an oatmeal substitute. I've lived down here for 35 years and still don't care for them, but I do highly recommend the use of the blue, stone-ground meal, if it can be found in the UK. for making polenta.

Many thanks for the recipe.

scramblingeggs said...

Oh I always wondered what grits were.

I've never seen blue corn meal but I'll keep an eye out- sounds intriguing.

Glad you tried the recipe and it worked! I'm a bit of a pinch of this, pinch of that cook so I always hope I have recorded the recipe accurately.

Lapinbizarre said...

You might, out of curiosity, be interested in the retail offerings of Anson Mills. They supply many "upscale" US restaurants interested in the revival of traditional American foods. Their Carolina Gold rice is the short-grained "Carolina" rice that is called for in British pudding recipes of the 18th through mid-20th centuries. Carolina rice production declined sharply with the American Civil War and the few remaining rice plantations were wiped out by a hurricane a little over 100 years ago. Carolina rice, revived in recent years, resembles Arborio rice and is excellent for the same purposes.

Chew said...

Yummo! I'm SO gonna make this