Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Beauty in the Kitchen

Hot cherry peppers from St. Jacobs Farmers' Market, awaiting their pickling fate.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Polenta Parmigiana

I try to make at least one vegetarian dinner per week; this was this week’s.  It was wonderful; creamy, smooth and delicious.  Definitely company-worthy (although I would likely use a homemade meat sauce for company).  Serve with a tossed salad and crusty bread.

1 c cornmeal
3 c cold water
¾ t salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 t chopped fresh rosemary (or 1/3 t dried, crumbled)
1 T butter
¼ c grated Parmesan
1-1/2 cups tomato (homemade or otherwise)
1 c grated mozzarella cheese
Torn basil leaves or chopped parsley, to garnish

In a medium saucepan, combine cornmeal, water, salt, pepper and rosemary.  Whisk to combine.

Cook over medium heat, whisking often.  When mixture begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low and switch to a wooden spoon.  Continue cooking, stirring often, for approximately 25 minutes.  Polenta is done when a wooden spoonful turned upside down doesn’t fall off.

Remove from heat, stir in butter and Parmesan.  Pour into lightly greased 8 X 8; spread out evenly.  Cover surface with plastic wrap and chill.

Once chilled, remove plastic wrap.  Cut polenta into four; preheat a griddle to high.  Cook, undisturbed, until edges against griddle begin to brown.  Turn over polenta slices and repeat. 

Preheat oven to 325o.  Remove browned polenta to a foil-lined baking sheet (leaving a space between pieces) spayed with a little vegetable oil.  Top each with a quarter of the tomato sauce and a quarter of the cheese.  Bake until cheese is melted and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.

Garnish with basil or parsley, if desired.

Serves four.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sausages & Peppers with Polenta

An Italian classic.  Ease to throw together, and excellent for entertaining.  The sausages and peppers can be made completely ahead of time, then just reheated before serving.

Sausages & Peppers
1 t vegetable oil
1 lb Italian sausages (mild or hot)
1 onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, de-seeded and sliced
227 g button mushrooms, cut in half (or quartered if large)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 t red wine vinegar
1 t sugar
½ t salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 T tomato paste
¼ c chicken stock, if needed

Cut sausages in half crosswise.  Preheat a large frying pan over medium heat until hot; add the oil, tilting the pan to cover the surface.  Add the sausages, and reduce heat to medium-low.  Brown all four sides of each sausage until golden; remove to a plate.

Add the onion, peppers, mushrooms and garlic to the frying pan (reduce heat if pan seems too hot).  Continue cooking slowly until the mushrooms have released their liquid and most of it has evaporated.  Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and tomato paste.  If sauce is too thick, thin out as necessary with up to ¼ c chicken stock.

Return the sausages to the frying pan, increase heat to medium, and stir through until heated.  Garnish with fresh basil, if you've got it.  Serve with polenta (either soft or hard).

1 c fine cornmeal (I like medium grind)
3 or 4 cups of liquid (I use 50/50 chicken stock & water)
¾ t salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 t chopped fresh rosemary or thyme
1 T butter
¼ c grated Parmesan

If making soft polenta, use four cups of liquid.  If making hard polenta (to cool, slice and grill or sauté), use three cups of liquid.

Combine cornmeal and cold liquid in medium saucepan, and whisk. Cook over medium heat, stirring often.  Reduce heat to medium-low as mixture begins to thicken, stirring every two minutes or so.  Total cooking time will be 20 – 25 minutes (20 for soft and 25 for hard). 

Remove from heat, add herbs, butter and Parmesan.  Serve immediately for soft polenta, for stiff polenta, pour into lightly greased 8 X 8 or loaf pan; spread out evening.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill.  Slice as desired, and either grill or sauté until browned.

White(ish) Chili

This is a white chili in the sense that there is no beef or tomatoes in it; the colour comes from the ancho chili.  True, it’s not very white, but who wants to eat white chili anyway?    

1 large ancho chili, split and deseeded*
2 t vegetable oil
650 g ground turkey
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
227 g mushrooms, sliced
1 t salt
1 T chili powder
1 t cumin
1 t oregano
¼ t cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 c chicken stock
2 - 540 ml cans white kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1 T lime juice
Sour cream and chopped cilantro to serve (optional)

Lightly toast the ancho chili halves in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until heated through, and colour changes slightly.  Put the chili into a bowl and pour over recently-boiled water just to cover.  Cover with plate and put aside for twenty minutes. 

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat; add turkey, breaking up with spoon.  Continue cooking until liquid has evaporated, and cooking sound has changed from bubbling to sizzling.

Add onion, green pepper, celery, garlic, mushrooms and salt.  When mushrooms begin to release their liquid, add the chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne and black pepper.  Cook, stirring regularly, until cooking sound once again changes to a sizzle.

Remove chili from water and discard water.  Put chili into a blender, along with the chicken stock and half of the beans.  Blend until smooth.  Pour mixture into Dutch oven and stir well.  Add lime juice.

Bring to a boil; reduce to medium low.  Cook, uncovered, until mixture reduces and thickens (about an hour), stirring regularly.  Check seasoning.

Serve topped with sour cream and cilantro if desired.

Serves four.

* If you can’t find ancho chili, substitute a canned chipotle, very finely chopped, and exclude the cayenne.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tofu Parmigiana

I can see those looks on your faces from here.  Wipe them off!  You will be absolutely amazed how good this tastes; think firm ricotta with tomato sauce and mozzarella.  Everyone who’s tried this has liked it; in my opinion, it’s the best thing you can do with a package of tofu. 

420 grams firm tofu, sliced into six slices and dried between paper towels
1 egg
½ c (approx) seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
1 c or more of your favourite tomato sauce (homemade or otherwise)
227 g mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in 1 T butter (optional)
2 T grated Parmesan cheese
½ c grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400F; line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Spray foil with vegetable oil.

Break the egg into a shallow bowl and mix until combined; put the breadcrumbs into a pie plate.  One by one, dip the slices of tofu into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs.  Turn well to coat.  Put the tofu slices onto the baking sheet, leaving space in between each piece.  Spray the tops of the tofu slices with additional vegetable oil. 

Bake for 30 minutes, turning pieces at half time, and rotating the baking sheet.

Reduce heat to 350F.  Put the pieces into an 8 X 8 pan, top with tomato sauce, mushrooms (if using), Parmesan and mozzarella. 

Bake for 30 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted and golden brown.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sausage Orzotto

I don’t know why we don’t hear of this northeastern Italian dish more often.  Everyone knows about risotto, but its cousin, orzotto, doesn’t seem to be as well known in North America.  I prefer it over risotto; it’s less finicky, better for you (a much higher source of fibre than short-grained starchy rice), and the texture is pleasingly chewy. 

When I plan on eating this on it’s own, I add the spinach; if I’m serving a vegetable side with it, I omit it.  Incidentally, beets are a great accompaniment.
2 c chicken stock mixed with 2 c water
200 g mild or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t chopped fresh rosemary
¼ c white wine
¾ c pearl barley
1 bunch baby spinach (optional)
2 T grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Chopped parsley to garnish (optional)

Combine the chicken stock and water, and heat until hot but not boiling.  Cover and put aside.

In large dry saucepan over medium heat, brown whole sausages.  Brown on all sides, then transfer to cutting board and chop finely.  Return to saucepan, add the onion, and continue cooking until the onion is translucent, about five minutes.  Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for another minute. 

Add the barley, stirring through well until it’s well coated with the oil.  Add the wine and cook until absorbed.  Add all the stock/water mixture, bring to a good simmer, and continue cooking, uncovered, stirring often (no less than every five minutes) for 45 minutes.  By this time the barley should be tender, but the mixture should still be quite moist.

If using, add the baby spinach and stir through until wilted.

Remove from heat, add the Parmesan, black pepper, and the olive oil.  Stir through well, and serve, garnished with parsley if using.

Makes 3 servings.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Fresh Fennel Salad

I love this salad with most Italian entrees; it’s well-balanced, crunchy, and easy to throw together.

1 fennel bulb, celery-like top removed, cut in half lengthwise & shaved on a mandolin (medium thickness)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t sugar
Sprinkle of salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ c minced parsley

Combine and toss; cover and refrigerate.  Make at least one hour before serving; toss again immediately beforehand.