Monday, June 22, 2009

it's tempting to resent the rain. i'm trying to embrace it. sort of.

as much as we should cook
for the seasons -
buy tomatoes in august,
oranges in january,
asparagus in april -
it's often so much more
tempting to cook for
the weather.

because you can toss
peas with favas and artichokes
as much as you want -
and you may even
like it -
but it won't help anyone
forget that it's been
raining in new jersey
for three weeks, easy.
it won't make you pass over
the details, like
everyday, you come home with
your shoes looking a little
worse for the wear and
the hem of your pants,
wet again.
it will be hard to recognize
that even though it seems
like salad season,
you really just want
a bowl of soup.

or this polenta,
which i was recently reminded of.
the first time i made this,
years ago, it was hot outside
(august, hot) and by the time
i had finished stirring the pot
over a high flame and a
piping hot oven, the last
thing i wanted to do was
actually eat a slice.
so since, i have saved it for
fall
winter
and, now, apparently,
gloomy junes.

vegetarian, very fast and easy,
the only thing required is a little
forethought,
or more appropriately,
proper mise en place -
very important because
almost all of your time will
be spent, stirring the polenta
nonstop, waiting for it to come to
a boil, and after,
making sure it doesn't scorch on
the bottom.

then once this quick cooking
polenta is thick, creamy and smooth,
you quickly stir in
garlic
basil
blue cheese
salt and pepper,
before spreading it evenly into
a skillet or deep pan.

once everything is level,
take the opportunity
to slow down, because the polenta
isn't going anywhere.
this is when you can add toppings,
in an orderly fashion,
or haphazardly, depending on
which style suits you best.
tomatoes,
garlic,
mozzarella
and
more blue.
slide the skillet into
the oven and then you have
18 minutes
to make a salad.
polenta as a meal, is
a wonderful, delicious
idea, but i always feel
like we need some greens
to balance out the wedge
on the plate.

when the table's set,
the salads are out
and everything smells
so good, you can
just picture the cheese
browning and bubbling
around the edges,
pull it from the oven,
and then - and i'll warn
you, this is the hardest part -
wait.
this waiting step,
in addition to upping the original
cooking time by two minutes,
took me sadly too long
to figure out, but thank goodness
i finally did. now, i can pass
this recipe onto you without
an asterick, that would let
you know that this dish
tastes amazing, but will not
cut into a proper wedge
warm and will look
an absolute mess on
the plate.

the polenta comes out
very hot and the last thing
it wants to do is conform
into whatever cut shape
you desire. no, it is very
content to be scooped
out, looking more like
mush, or maybe to be polite
and fair to our main meal,
soft polenta.

but...like all things great,
this polenta shouldn't be rushed.
give the skillet a few extra
minutes in the oven.
once on the table,
let it hang out, get used to
its surroundings while
you enjoy your salad.
then.
and only then.
you can slice past the
(semi-seasonal!)
juicy tomatoes and
fragrant basil,
though the two cheeses -
one for melting and one
for flavor -
into the creamy, but firm,
cornmeal,
and it will be ready to
comply and come much
closer to resembling
the triangular wedge
you intended.

once on the plate,
cozy up to it. settle
in. pretend it's winter
and not a march day in
june. remember that yes,
it's raining, yes it's gross outside
and yes, it's unbelievably
annoying. but if it wasn't,
you'd probably be eating
something else.
baked blue cheese polenta with tomatoes and basil
adapted from bon appetit magazine
a big plus for this recipe is that once you've stirred the cornmeal into a creamy base and added the ingredients, you can taste the mixture (swiftly) and decide what else it needs. it was this grace period that made me decide to up the basil and add both garlic and blue cheese to the polenta - not just sprinkle it on top. i also use grape tomatoes instead of cherry, toss in more garlic and extra grated mozzarella. i use whatever blue i happen to have, but if you're in the store shopping, look for one that melts well, like buttermilk, point reyes or danish. feel free to increase or decrease the amounts, depending on what you love.

also, i usually prepare everything - halve the tomatoes, chop the garlic, grate and crumble the cheeses - ahead of time. except for the basil, because i don't want it to brown. so instead, i pluck 20 to 30 leaves, lay them into two piles and once the polenta is done, very quickly, roll them into a cigar and slice thinly.

4 cups water
1 1/3 cups cornmeal
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped and divided
30 large basil leaves, or more
6 ounces blue cheese, crumbled and divided
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/4 cups grated part-skim mozzarella cheese

heat oven to 450˚f. coat 12" skillet with a heatproof handle with cooking spray; set aside. (if your skillet's handle is not heatproof, or you're not sure, just wrap it twice with aluminum foil - like i do - to ensure that nothing but the cheese melts in the oven. warning: regardless of if it's wrapped or not, you'll still need an oven mitt to remove the pan from the oven.)

in large saucepot, combine water, cornmeal and salt. bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. reduce heat to medium-low and cook 3 minutes more, or until polenta becomes very thick and pulls away from the pan, whisking constantly. remove from heat; whisk in olive oil and half chopped garlic. quickly roll basil into cigar shape and thinly slice; sprinkle half on top of polenta. add 2 ounces blue cheese; whisk to combine. season with kosher salt and black pepper, to taste.

transfer polenta to prepared skillet, patting evenly. sprinkle with remaining garlic and grape tomatoes; press tomatoes slightly into polenta. sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, remaining blue cheese and remaining basil, slicing more basil, if necessary.

bake 18 minutes, or until cheese is browned around the edges and bubbling. remove from oven and let sit 10 to 15 minutes. cut into wedges to serve.

2 comments:

doughgirl said...

Nice veg entree. Plus, I imagine you could dress it up any way you want. I'm definitely trying this one.

brooke said...

thanks! yes - it's very easy to change around...add herbs to the polenta, different cheeses, different vegetables. and the leftovers are great, too.