“Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness – And Wilderness is Paradise enow.” –Omar Khayyam Omar Khayyam had it right. Bread elevates the soul. Studies […]
‘Tis the season. You can’t have Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving–what a great idea!) without cranberry sauce and this cranberry sauce recipe is a stunner with a bit of a southwestern kick–chiles. Cranberries are, of course, a part of America’s history. Reportedly, cranberries were served at […]
Want to really tell somebody off?
Call them a polentoni (a big polenta). You read that right–a big polenta.That’s the nasty insult that southern Italians lob at northern Italians, or, at least, they did back in the day.
Why’s that? It seems to have a lot to do with class. Polenta was to poor Italians what potatoes was to the impoverished Irish. Survival.
Don’t let the social dynamics of the Italian regional feud keep you from enjoying polenta, though. Prepared properly, it can be delicious.
Polenta is pretty basic. It is a mixture of cornmeal, water, olive oil, and salt but it cries out for culinary creativity. Add some herbs and cheese and you have a tasty dish indeed. Or, prepare it plain and top it with something saucy and wonderful.
Italians have been eating polenta since the 1400s when corn arrived via the eastern trade routes. Originally called “Turkish grain,” polenta was served throughout the day with or without enhancements like meat or vegetables. The popular dish got a huge boost in popularity after Columbus returned from the New World bearing corn. Like tomatoes, peppers and squash, corn was an important part of what historians call “The Columbian Exchange”–the exchange of foodstuffs (animals and diseases, too) between the old world and the new.
This delicious dish combines polenta (chilled, cut into squares and sauteed in butter until you have a slight crunch on the outside) with a garlicky-tomatoey mushroom ragout and as much cheese as your conscience will allow.
It’s pretty enough (and tasty enough) for guests, but it won’t break your budget. And, if, at the end of the meal, your guests call you a big polenta, it will be the best kind of compliment.
- For The Polenta:
- 1 T. unsalted butter
- 3 C. water
- 1/2 T. olive oil
- 1 C. polenta (yellow cornmeal)
- 1.2 C. freshly-grated Asiago cheese
- 1/4 C. flat-leaf parsley (finely chopped)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 C. shredded mozzarella cheese
- For the Ragout:
- 2 T. unsalted butter
- 1 T. olive oil
- 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
- 2 large garlic cloves (minced)
- 20 ounces mushrooms (crimini, baby bellas, or a mixture) (thinly sliced)
- 1 t. fresh sage leaves (finely chopped)
- 1 24-oz can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 t. fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 C. red (or white) wine
- 1 T. sugar
- 1/2 C. heavy cream
- For Garnish:
- Shredded mozzarella
- Shredded Asiago Cheese
- Chopped parsley
- For Polenta:
- Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking dish (with sides) with butter.
- Add water and oil to a large saucepan and heat over high heat until you have a boil. Reduce heat to low and pour in cornmeal while whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Bring the mixture back to a boil and continue cooking for about 5 minutes until the polenta is tender and thick. Be sure to stir your polenta constantly during the five minutes of cooking.
- Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in butter, cheese and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste and spoon the cooked polenta into your prepared pan, spreading the polenta to even it out in the pan. Chill in the refrigerator until form (at least 20 minutes or overnight).
- To make the ragout:
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add butter and oil. When the butter is melted and the butter foam subsides, add onion and garlic. Sitr with a wooden spoon until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant. This will take about 6 minutes. Add mushrooms, sage, and thyme leaves. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes until the mushrooms have released their liquid and the liquid has evaporated. Add wine and cook until the wine has evaporated. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring until the ragout thickens. This will take about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and sugar. Stir in heavy cream.
- To assemble final dish:
- Melt unsalted butter in a large saucepan and put rectangular pieces of chilled polenta into the hot pan. Cook on one side for about 5 minutes until polenta begins to brown. Turn polenta over and cook on the other side for about 5 minutes.
- Put polenta slices on oven-proof serving plates, spoon on a generous dollop of the hot mushroom ragout and top with shredded mozzarella and Asiago cheeses. Heat for a few minutes under your broiler (or microwave) and serve garnished with extra cheese and chopped parsley.
I’m enjoying a fair amount of Middle Eastern/North African cooking of late. I love the bold flavors and the high-intensity colors of the dishes from that region. Brings back good memories, too. When the world was a gentler place, my husband and I did a […]
Happy Halloween from those of us here at Blue Cayenne. Juliet, our chief quality officer, is particularly into the Halloween party mood today. She is all dressed up in her frilly Halloween collar and can’t wait until the doorbell starts ringing tonight. Did I […]
This is not a pizza.
I know. I know. It sure looks like a pizza and we all know that old duck test: “If it looks like a duck…”
Nevertheless, this is a crostata. A crostata is a rustic Italian baked tart, the Italian cousin of the French galette. This particular crostata is a pizza-like savory “pie” that differs from a traditional pizza in that it has a crust that has the crunch of cornmeal and the flavor of butter. (Not all savory crostata doughs incorporate cornmeal as an ingredient, though.)
This crostata is topped with a goat and asiago cheese mixture, sliced heirloom tomatoes and a generous garnish of fresh basil leaf chiffonade. Pretty wonderful.
My friend Sarah says this is one of the best things I make and Sarah is one of the best cooks I know. Take her word for it and give this recipe a try.
- 1 recipe crostata crust (chilled)
- 2 C. grated Asiago cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
- 1/4 C. goat cheese (at room temperature)
- 1/4 C. mayonnaise
- 1 T. fresh chives (minced)
- 1 t. fresh thyme leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound heirloom tomatoes (sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds and drained on paper towels)
- Extra-virgin olive oil (for drizzling)
- Sea salt
- 1 large egg (beaten)
- 5 fresh basil leaves (cut into chiffonade ribbons)
- Recipe for the Crostata Crust
- 1 1/4 C. (6 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 C. cornmeal
- 1/4 t. sea salt
- 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter (cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water
- Make the crostata crust. Add flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse once or twice until the ingredients are mixed. Add the butter cubes and pulse until the butter cubes are the size of large peas. Sprinkle ice water into the mixture one tablespoon at a time, pulsing with each water addition. When large clumps form and the dough begins to hold together, transfer the dough from the processor bowl to a lightly-floured surface and form into a ball and then into a 6-inch wide disk. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before you roll it into a crust.
- For the crostata: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place the rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or use a silicone mat.
- Slice tomatoes into 1/4 inch rounds and lay them out on a paper-towel lined cookie sheet. Cover the tomato slices with more paper towels and set the tomatoes aside. You are doing this so that the tomatoes you use to top your crostata will not release too much liquid during the baking of the crostata.
- To roll the crust: Flour your counter generously. Roll the chilled disk into a 14 inch wide and 1/8 inch thick round. As you are rolling the dough, turn it and flip it being sure to keep the surface on which you are rolling the dough well-floured. When you have rolled the dough into the correct size, roll it around the rolling pin and transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate the dough on the baking sheet while your prepare the filling for the crostata.
- To prepare the filling: Put Asiago cheese, goat cheese, mayonnaise, chives and thyme in a small bowl. Using your hands (or a wooden spoon), mix these ingredients to thoroughly combine. Season with salt and pepper. Spread this mixture on the center of the chilled crostata dough round, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border all around.
- Layer the tomato slices in concentric circles (overlapping slightly) on top of the cheese mixture.
- Fold the border of the crust up around the tomato-cheese mixture. Leave the center open.
- Drizzle some olive oil over the crostata and brush the dough edges of the crostata with an egg wash (beaten egg and a little water). Sprinkle some grated Asiago over the crust and over the tomatoes in the center of the crostata.
- Put completed crostata in a preheated oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the crust is a golden brown. Check the crostata several times while cooking it to see if the crust is browning evenly. Use a spatula to lift up the edges of the crostata to inspect the bottom of the crostata.
- When the crostata is done and the crust is a pretty golden brown, transfer the crostata to a rack and cool for 15 minutes.
- Garnish wil basil, slice and serve. (This crostata can be reheated in a 350 degree F. oven for about 5 minutes.)
This recipe was adapted from one taught at Sur La Table Cooking School in Costa Mesa. Their classes are excellent. Here is a link to their website: Sur La Table Cooking School in Costa Mesa, California
I’ll admit it. The pumpkin push is beginning to get to me. I like pumpkin, but… There are sixty pumpkin items on the shelves at Trader Joe’s! You read that right. Sixty! And Trader Joe’s is not alone in its bid to promote pumpkin […]
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This lemon-spice cake is my recipe gift to you today. It’s a visiting cake.
This week marks Blue Cayenne’s second birthday. Woo-hoo! Let’s party!
But, what in the world is a visiting cake?
Cooking diva Dorie Greenspan (Dorie’s Cookies, Baking Chez Moi, Around My French Table) recently wrote about “visiting cakes” for an On The Road column in The New York Times Magazine. A visiting cake is a gift cake, one that is necessarily sturdy, durable and full of long-lasting flavor. Historically, a lot of visiting cakes were fruit cakes, but we’re not going to go there.
The lemon-spice visiting cake that Greenspan includes in her Times piece is perfect for a visiting cake. Its texture is pound-cakeish (I’m sure that must be a word). It is flavored with bold spices (ginger and cardamom) and hand-rubbed lemon sugar. And, its moist crumb is locked in by a generous brushing of melted orange marmalade.
I can tell you from personal experience (trust me here) that the cake tastes great for days after it is baked. In fact, it is at its very best on the second and third day after you bake it.
But, back to our birthday…Both of us here at Blue Cayenne–me and my Chief Quality Officer Juliet–thank you for reading our posts and for your generous words of encouragement. A special thanks goes to Al Nomura, my talented photography mentor, who (amazingly) has never lost faith in my ability to improve as a photographer.
Truth be told, Juliet and I are having an awfully good time with this one hundred ninety-one post (and counting) project. We’re eating some very good food, too, and it is always more fun when you can share the recipes.
Thanks for visiting.
- Butter and flour for the pan
- 1 1/2C. (204 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 t. baking powder
- 1 t. ground cardamom
- 1/2 t ground ginger
- 1/2 t. fine sea salt
- 1 1/4 C. (250 grams) sugar
- 1 large lemon (I used the zest from two medium-sized lemons)
- 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
- 1/2 C. (120 ml) heavy cream (at room temperature)
- 1 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
- 5 1/2 T. (77 grams) unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
- 1/3 C. marmalade (melted)
- 1/2 t. water
- Preheat oen to 350 degrees F.
- Butter and dust a 8 1/2-inch loaf pan with flour.
- Melt butter and let it cool. Set it aside.
- Whisk 1 1/2 C. flour, baking powder, cardamom, ginger and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Combine sugar and the grated zest of one or two lemons in a medium bowl. Rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers until the oil from the zest makes the sugar moist and aromatic. Whisk eggs into the sugar mixture. (Add the eggs one at a time and whisk each time until the egg is fully incorporated.) Whisk in 3 T. lemon juice. Whisk in the heavy cream.
- Slowly, add in the dry ingredients in two additions to the sugar mixture. (Use a whisk to do this.)
- Add vanilla extract to the melted butter you prepared at the beginning of this recipe. Gradually mix this butter mixture into the batter. Your batter will be thick and glossy.
- Scrape the prepared batter into your buttered and flour-dusted loaf pan.
- Bake your cake on the center rack of your oven for 70 to 75 minutes. (I set my loaf pan on an insulated cookie sheet for double protection against over-cooking the bottom of the cake.) When it is done, a tester pushed deep into the center of the cake will come out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and let the cake rest for about 5 minutes in the pan. After five minutes, run a blunt knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake. (Be careful here to be sure that the cake is fully releasing from the bottom of the loaf pan.) Invert the cake onto a rack on your counter and then turn the cake over.
- Melt the marmalade with the 1/2 t. water to make a glaze. Brush the cake with the glaze. Let it cool completely.
- Let the cake cool completely for at least 2 hours before you cut it.
- Cream sugar and butter together in a large bowl.
This recipe is adapted from a Dorie Greenspan recipe. Here is the link: Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon-Spice Visiting Cake
Oxi! (or is it Nai! ?) I could never keep yes and no straight in Greek. (Could be a dangerous confusion in any language. I know.) These Greek Baked Beans are delicious. I just made another big (for me) Rancho Gordo bean buy and […]