Italian Food

About Polenta

Yellow Polenta with Grilled Summer Vegetables

Yellow Polenta with Grilled Summer Vegetables

Polenta is a delicious (gluten free) starch for every season. I love it

  • In summer with grilled vegetables and fish.

  • In Fall, with roasted winter squash, wild mushrooms and quick braised sausage.

  • In Winter with braised meats and greens.

Choosing polenta in the words of Viola Buitoni

At our Cooking From the Summer Garden Weekend Getaway with Viola Buitoni in August, we had a delicious polenta evening. Below are Viola’s thoughts on the types of polenta ~

From Viola:

“There are four different kinds of polenta with which all have space in my heart and pantry. The classic yellow one, whole wheat, white and taragna.

White is the most delicate and lends itself well to decisive and refined flavors with underlying sweetness: fish and seafood, spices and nutty, delicate cheeses. It is generally milled to an even slightly finer ground.

Yellow is a jack-of-all-trades and can successfully espouse a range of flavors: from sweet, to rustic, to acid, to spicy. The mill of it, more than the flavor, will determine your selection. A finer mill (fioretto) is more suitable to a sweeter more fragrant sauce-like mushrooms for example, while a coarser (bramata) grind will hold up well to a long braise, with a red wine base and dark meat. In Italy, one can also find a mill grade called fumetto, a very fine polenta typically used in pastry.

Whole wheat polenta has a nuttier, woodsy flavor that goes well with stinky cheeses, spicy sauces, sweet nuts and butter.

Taragna, which has a percentage of buckwheat in it. I like it with creamy aged and blue cheeses, and redolent vegetables in the cabbage family.”

Cooking Polenta

1 cup polenta yields about 6 heaping 1/2 cup servings

Depending on how you will serve polenta, proportions of dry polenta to liquid should be:

  • For a dry / firm polenta that you will chill then slice: 1 part dry polenta to 3 parts liquid

  • For a wet / creamy polenta:  1 part dry polenta to 4 or 5 parts liquid

  • The liquid can be water, vegetable or meat stock or broth. Milk can also be used or added with water to create a creamy polenta or to make cheesy grits.

  1. Bring the liquid to a boil and salt to taste. You should be able to taste a faint taste of salt.

  2. With a wooden spoon in hand, slowly pour the polenta into the boiling liquid in a slow, steady stream, stirring all the while to keep the polenta from clumping.

  3. Continue stirring until the polenta begins to boil then turn the heat down to a simmer. At this point, the polenta should just puff little bursts of steam. You don’t want it to boil as the polenta will burst out of the pot and can burn.

  4. Continue stirring until the polenta off and on for about 20 minutes or until it is creamy with a bit of texture. You can add a splatter guard or loosely place a lid over the polenta.

  5. Add liquid towards the end if a runnier consistency is desired.

  6. If desired, add a knob of unsalted butter, more salt and white pepper.

Eggplant Caponata

Eggplant Caponata epitomizes summer. The eggplant sops up the olive oil so use a good one. The dish is layered and made rich with salty and sweet notes. It's perfect served at room temperature as an appetizer but also delicious on burgers, over grilled meats and chicken, or layered in a sandwhich. Makes about 3-4 cups

Eggplant Caponata epitomizes summer. The eggplant sops up the olive oil so use a good one. The dish is layered and made rich with salty and sweet notes. It's perfect served at room temperature as an appetizer but also delicious on burgers, over grilled meats and chicken, or layered in a sandwhich. Makes about 3-4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup good quality, extra virgin olive oil, possibly more

  • 2 Lbs eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 1 large onion, diced

  • 3 Tbls tomato paste, thinned in ¼ cup water

  • 1 cup crushed canned tomatoes

  • 6 oz. green olives, sliced or roughly chopped (stuffed olives are good too)

  • ½ cup white wine vinegar

  • ½ cup golden raisins

  • ¼ cup capers

  • 2 to 3 Tbls sugar or to taste

  • 2 Tbls finely grated unsweetened chocolate

  • ½ cup basil, sliced thinly

  • 2 to 4 Tbls pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan

  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.

To Make:

  1. Heat one third of the oil and add one third of the eggplant. Fry, tossing occasionally, until browned, 3–4 minutes.

  2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to a large bowl; set aside.

  3. Finish the remaining eggplant in two batches using more oil if needed. Don’t be afraid to allow the eggplant to absorb the oil, it will add to the dish!

  4. Lightly salt the eggplant to taste.

  5. Reduce heat to medium and add oil if needed to the pan and sauté the onions until slightly caramelized. A pinch of sugar can help the process.

  6. Add the tomato paste - water mixture and cook, stirring, until caramelized and almost evaporated, 1–2 minutes.

  7. Add the crushed tomatoes and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes.

  8. Stir in olives, vinegar, raisins, capers, sugar, and chocolate, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

  9. Transfer to the bowl with the eggplant. Cool.

  10. Add the basil and pine nuts and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and let cool to room temperature before serving.

Stuffed Artichokes ~ Two Ways

Artichokes, Lg. Raw.JPG

Spring brings us big, beautiful artichokes which I love to stuff and serve as a first course or entree. Here are two of my favorite versions. Italian Sausage Stuffed Artichokes and Anchovy & Pine Nut Stuffed Artichokes.

Italian Sausage Stuffed Artichokes ~ Serves 6 ~ This is a meal! Add a salad using bitter greens like arugula with good red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

  • 6 medium to large artichokes, rinsed
  • ½ lemon
  • 4 Tbls olive oil, halved
  • 1 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs, I like to us good sourdough whole wheat; nuts and seeds are fine
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage or raw links, split and casing removed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbls each fresh mince oregano and parsley (or 1 tsp. each dried) You can also substitute ¼ cup minced fresh basil
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth, white wine or water
  • 2 cups marinara sauce (optional)

To cook artichokes for both recipes:

  1. Rinse the artichokes. Slice about ¾-inch to an inch off the tip of the artichoke using a serrated knife. Next, cut off the tips of the petals using scissors and remove the small petals at the base. Last, cut off the stem so that the artichoke can sit flat. Reserve the stem. Rub the artichoke with the cut lemon.
  2. Steam the artichokes. If desired, add a few aromatic bay leaves, sliced garlic, sprigs of thyme, etc. to the water before steaming the artichokes. For this recipe, steam until almost done but not quite tender, between 20 and 35 minutes depending on the size. Use a sharp knife to pierce through the bottom of the heart to check for doneness.

Meanwhile:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F
  2. Evenly spread the breadcrumbs on flat baking pan or cookie sheet and bake until toasted but not completely dry, 5 to 8 minutes. In other words, don’t be too picky but do watch them closely so they don’t burn.
  3. In a sauté pan over medium heat, sauté the pork, breaking it into small pieces, until it is cooked through and crumbled. Drain on paper towel.
  4. Add two tablespoons olive oil to the pan and then the onion and garlic sautéing until the onion is tender.
  5. Add the onions and garlic to a medium bowl along with the sausage, bread crumbs, herbs, pine nuts and cheese and toss just to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Once the artichokes are cool enough to handle, gently spread the leaves to open the artichoke giving room to add the filling. Remove the smallest leaves in the very center. Using a teaspoon, scrape out the fuzzy choke making sure you get the fuzz out of the crevices.
  7. Lightly fill the artichoke center with filling as well as in-between the leaves and place the artichokes in a baking dish that has just enough room to hold them snuggly.
  8. Drizzle with remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and the one cup of broth.
  9. Carefully pour water into the bottom of the dish (avoiding artichokes) up to ¼-inch.
  10. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the top of the stuffing is lightly browned and the artichokes are hot.
  11. Serve the marinara sauce as a dip on the side.
Artichoke Stuffed.jpg

Anchovy & Pine Nut Stuffed Artichokes ~ Serves 4 to 6 ~ This is a lighter version and makes a great appetizer using artichokes that are on the small to medium size. The anchovies melt into the stuffing creating umami flavors perfect with artichokes.

  • 4 medium or 6 small artichokes, cooked and cleaned as above
  • 4 Tbls olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 anchovies (or more)
  • 2 Tbls each fresh mince oregano and parsley (or 1 tsp. each dried) You can also substitute ¼ cup minced fresh basil
  • 1 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs, toasted as in above recipe
  • ¼ cup capers
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Pinch peperoncino (pepper flakes)
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • Lemon wedges
  1. Follow cooking instructions above for the artichokes and the breadcrumbs.

Meanwhile:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F
  2. In a sauté pan over medium heat, add two tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onion until tender.
  3. Mince the garlic and anchovies together to form a rough paste and add to the onions. Sauté until the garlic is tender and the anchovies have “melted” into the mixture.
  4. Add the mixture to a medium bowl along with the bread crumbs, pine nuts and capers, herbs, chili flakes and cheese and toss just to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Lightly fill the artichoke center with filling as well as in-between the leaves.
  6. Place the artichokes in a baking dish that has just enough room to hold them snuggly.
  7. Drizzle with remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and the 1 cup of broth, water, or wine.
  8. Carefully pour water into the bottom of the dish (avoiding artichokes) up to ¼-inch.
  9. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the top of the stuffing is lightly browned and the artichokes are hot.
  10. Serve with lemon wedges or lemon butter.