Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grilled polenta

It took B.O.F. bff and new papa, Matty O'Food, to lure me back to Blogspot Dot Com. I've been in an extended funk since returning from Europe. I didn't realize it, but after so many great meals shared with friends, I just couldn't face cooking for one again. Where's the inspiration in that? But Matty's foodie IMs stirred the sleeping muses and I am once again looking with fondness at my kitchen.
During one of those online conversations, I surprised Matty - and myself - with a northern Italian spin on a classic Tex-Mex breakfast dish. Corn meal was gonna make a guest appearance, but polenta is a time-intensive affair, and one doesn't just whip up a dollop or two on a whim. Only by planning a couple of dishes was I able to justify the labor involved.
Polenta 101:
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • ½-cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a heavy-bottomed pan, bring water to a boil. When rolling, whisk in polenta in a slow steady stream. Reduce the heat under the pot to low and continue to stir the polenta constantly for a few minutes until the meal becomes suspended in the liquid. Cook at a low simmer for 1 hour, stirring periodically. After an hour, whip in the butter, remove polenta from heat and stir in the cheese.
Cooked polenta should be silky and creamy, with a pourable consistency. It wonderful sauced with a ragù or sautéed mushrooms. You've seen it here with cacciatore. As polenta cools, it sets up quickly. Firm polenta can be cut up then baked, grilled or fried. Pour finished polenta into a large, ungreased baking dish and spread evenly with a spatula. Let the polenta set and do not cover until completely cool. Once firm, let your imagination run wild with serving ideas. Enzo's of Arthur Avenue was in my crosshairs.
Grilled polenta & cannellini - adapted from Enzo's of Arthur Ave.
  • 1 lb dry cannellini beans rinsed and soaked overnight
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage
  • Polenta, firmed and cut into 4" squares
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Red pepper flakes
In a large stockpot, cover soaked cannellini beans in plenty of water and set over a high flame. Once the beans come to the boil, reduce to a low simmer and cook beans for about 2 hours. Stir occasionally to keep the beans from crowding and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Make sure the water level stays a couple of inches above the beans at all times. Do not add any salt until the end of cooking. Salt interferes with the cooking of dry beans making them tough.
Start checking the beans for doneness after 60 minutes. Cooked beans should be tender. Under cooked beans will be grainy feeling in the mouth. Do not drain cooked beans immediately, but allow them to cool in their own liquid. If drained while still hot, the skins crack and the texture gets ragged. Reserve the cooking liquid once you drain the beans.
As the cannellini beans cool, remove the sweet sausage from its casings and crumble into a large skillet and brown completely over medium heat. Allow the pork to cool a bit, then transfer to a food processor. Break down the meat into a coarse texture with short pulses.
Ladle some of the reserved cooking liquid from the beans into a sauté pan. Add a few tablespoons of beans and sausage. Reduce the sauce for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and red pepper flakes. While the sauce reduces, brush polenta squares with a little olive oil and cook on both sides on a hot grill. The polenta is already cooked. You're basically looking for nice grill marks to tease the eye at the table. Spoon the cannellini and sausage sauce over the cooked polenta and serve right away.
I have a standing invitation from Enzo's chef Harpo to invade his kitchen where he will divulge some of the state secrets behind their more famous dishes. Before taking him up on the offer, I thought I would have a go at one of my favorite appetizers of his. I think I got pretty close. At least I pushed away from table satisfied. And that's all that really matters now, isn't it.
There was a good two-thirds of a pan of polenta leftover for breakfast the next morning. You're not gonna believe what I served up. Until then...
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

1 comment:

Matt said...

Dios Mio. My love affair with Polenta continues.