Monday, January 11, 2010

Primo! Polenta (With Lotsa Options)

Gourmet Gayle has always emphasized that when it comes to food presentation, color is paramount. If you plate something green with something red and something yellow, you have achieved that delightfully dynamic culinary combination that typifies mediterranean cuisine.

Polenta provides a sunny yellow foundation for a variety of sauces. Here are two ways to prepare this creamy dish. Gayle and I prefer traditional cornmeal over "polenta" style cornmeal (simply means it has been ground finer). Gayle recently experimented with doing it in the crockpot and reports that it comes out perfectly, requires less of that naughty butter and cream and is more hands-off! Woo hoo!

Gayle is sharing her go-to fresh sauces with us also or you can use your favorite ready-made sauce. If you've got 'em, fresh basil leaves add a lovely touch of "green" for your platescape!

Basic Polenta
(Serves 3-4)
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil with ½ tsp. salt. SLOWLY whisk in 1 cup of corn meal. Turn heat down low enough that the polenta doesn’t pop.

Keep stirring and cook for about 10-15 minutes. You can do other things, just keep passing by and stirring. Polenta will become thick like Cream of Wheat.

Add 2 T butter, ¼ c Parmesan and 2 T cream (you can substitute sour cream or plain yogurt for the cream).

Serve warm with fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce or Porcini Mushroom Sauce.

Crockpot Method
4 cups boiling water
1 tsp salt
2 tsp butter
1 cup corn meal

Put everything in the crockpot and stir. Place lid on top and cook on high for 5 hours. Turn to low and cook as long as you want. Stir it occasionally as you walk by and think how yummy it will be. Add 1/4 parmesan before serving, if you like.

Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce
2 or 3 T olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut up
¼ cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
Optional: 2 T capers and/or 2 T pine nuts (add after tomatoes and wine have been cooked)
Lots of fresh black pepper
Salt to taste
2/3 cup torn basil leaves
grated parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil. Sauté the tomatoes and garlic in the oil for no more than 2 minutes. Add the wine, chicken broth, capers (optional), pine nuts (optional) and pepper and cook for another minute. Season with S & P to taste. Add the basil leaves just before serving and serve with cheese on top and a few decorative basil leaves.

Porcini Mushroom Sauce
½ cup dry porcini mushrooms
3T olive oil
1/8 of an onion, chopped (it’s about ½ cup)
6 cups sliced white mushrooms (or crimini or whatever you want)
1 clove garlic, minced
2T flour

 Soak ½ cup of porcinis in ½ C boiling water. Let them soak at least 30 minutes or longer (shorter if you are desperate).

Meanwhile sauté the onion just until it starts to get brown. Add the regular mushrooms and sauté a few minutes (keep turning them). Then add the garlic. The liquid should start coming out of the mushrooms by then.

Add ¼ tsp. salt and 2-tsp. flour. Add porcinis and their liquid and let cook 3 or 4 minutes. Add 3 or 4 T cream.

Cook on low for no more than 3 minutes. Serve over pasta or polenta.

As an Appetizer or a hot day meal:
Add sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, chopped green onions, red peppers, grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil and/or oregano.
Line a spring form pan with plastic wrap and spoon polenta into pan. Refrigerate.

To serve: Flip onto a plate. Pull plastic wrap off and slice into wedges. Warm it, grill it or serve it at room temperature.

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