Polenta, Spinach, and Savory Sauce

Barbara said she wanted Polenta last night, so I made a version that we really liked, featuring a savory sauce I just invented.

The polenta part was relatively easy: 1 cup of medium stone-ground Italian cornmeal and three cups of liquid (2 cups water, 1 cup Rice Dream — rice milk).  Bring water, and rice milk to a boil, add some salt, slowly drizzle the cornmeal into the pot, and stir constantly while it simmers, at least 15 minutes — or longer — until it is smooth and creamy.  If you are feeling in a not-so-vegan mood, add 3/4 cup of fresh Asiago cheese, cut in cubes, and about 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, stirring into the polenta until it melts.

Wash a bunch of baby spinach and wilt it in a covered hot skillet with 1-2 Tbs. olive oil.  Cool and coarsely chop the spinach.

The fun part was the sauce.  We had some sliced sweet onions left over from pizza on Sunday, so I sautéed them in olive oil until tender and lightly browned.  Next I added a roasted, peeled red pepper (Greek, pre-packaged), chopped up and mixed with the onion.  When those flavors were well-blended, I cut up a flavorful tomato (Kumato brand is a good one this time of year), and cooked that until dissolved with the onion and pepper.  Now for the secret ingredient: red onion jam from Calabria.  These are made from small red onions that grow in Tropea, Calabria, and carry the special IGP status.  I had purchased a small jar recently, and I thought they would perk up the sauce.  Zing!

The final dish was assembled in a pasta bowl.

Polenta in the bowl-2 Calabrian red onion jam

I decided to go with a white wine and selected a Loire Valley natural wine, a 2011 Mineral+ from Frantz Saumon, from organically grown fruit in Montlouis — pure Chenin Blanc and quite stunning.

Mineral+ Montlouis-Loire

I liked the sauce so much, I decided to replicate it again tonight for a quick dinner tonight, this time with Swiss Chard and the leftover spinach, atop gnocchi.  The wine was also Calabrian, Jan D’Amore’s 2003 Polpicello from Odoardi.

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Celebrating Campania


Nearly four years ago, when I first started blogging, I celebrated a delightful trip to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. Today, I replaced the defunct link to my photo album of the best pictures, so I am reblogging it to celebrate the journey and to share with you.

You may notice that this trip was just prior to my adopting my mostly vegan ways.

Originally posted on Dgourmac's Blog:

Positano harbor My seventh (and most recent) trip to Italy was my sojourn in Naples and the Amalfi Coast in late April/early May.  Spectacular scenery, comfortable weather, delicious food and wines, colorful flowers, and warm and engaging people — these are the trademarks of Campania. For photo highlights, see:

Capri pasta frutti da mare

Vesuvio from Sant’Agnello

View original

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Pizza: Sprung from Winter

One sure sign that Springtime has arrived in New England is the emergence of our pizza oven from the icy grip of Winter’s snowdrifts.

banked fire

Pizza Oven — April 6

pizza oven in Feb

Pizza Oven — February 18

Today was sunny weather and warmish for this time of year: mid to upper 50′s F.  And so it was a perfect time to shovel out the old ashes and crank up the pizza oven for just the two of us.  One dough recipes makes enough for four or five pizzas.  We each made and ate one, then made and froze three others for future consumption.

I actually started the fire in the oven at about 12:30, knowing Barbara needed dinner well before 6 PM.  Normally, it takes 2 hours for the oven to get up to temperature (900+º).  However, today it took significantly longer, probably because we had such a long, cold and wet winter.  I believe that those conditions cause the first fire of the season to put much of its early BTUs into evaporating the moisture in the oven (as opposed to heating the wood and then the firebrick).  Anyway, by 3:15 PM I was ready to start cooking.

Usually, when we do pizza, we are cooking for 4 to 8 people, and we offer an array of 8-10 toppings plus homemade tomato sauce.  Today, it was just the two of us, and we proceeded with “simple” as our mantra.  Sauce was a jar of Dave’s Heirloom Tomato Sauce, supplemented by part of a can of our usual Lavalle organic Italian tomatoes.  Cheese: just mozzarella, already shredded and in the bag.  Toppings: sliced onion, zucchini, garlic slivers — with only the garlic needing any pre-cooking.  Last minute additions were slices of eggplant which I roasted in the pizza oven (only takes about 5 minutes), a couple of mini peppers which I had already prepared yesterday — oh, yes, and one experiment.  Late this week, in my craving for supplemental B-12, I bought a few littleneck clams at the fish market.  So in the short time before cooking the pizzas, I placed 5 of the clams in a small copper Bourgeat gratin dish, drizzled on a little olive oil, leftover Prosecco, two peeled garlic cloves, and ground black pepper.  The clams popped open in about three minutes, and the clam juice mixed with the wine and oil, to give me a flavorful shot of sweet and briny excitement, wherever I used it.  I ate the clams outside, as soon as they were cool enough to handle, and I tossed the empty wheels into the brush, for really long-term composting.

Here are what some of the results looked like:

ready to go in

ready to go in

Fresh from the oven - eggplant, onions, artichoke hearts, garlic, and cheese

Fresh from the oven – eggplant, onions, artichoke hearts, garlic, and cheese

Barbara's with zucchini and onion

Barbara’s with zucchini and onion

eggplant, peppers, and onion

eggplant, peppers, and onion

The wine was one I opened the night before, a 2008 Primitivo from Guttarolo in Puglia.  It is the most luscious, balanced, elegantly fruity Primitivo I had ever had.

Guttarilo 2008 Primitivo

Guttarilo 2008 Primitivo


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Baked Ratatouille — from Pure Vegan

Tonight we tried another recipe from Pure Vegan, also with very good results.   The dish was Baked Ratatouille, a marriage of French and Greek cuisines, and it worked very well.  The fundamental elements were a ratatouille, made with the usual suspects, in this case 1/2-inch dice of eggplant, zucchini, sliced onions, garlic and tomatoes.  These are all cooked together and then baked with a phyllo dough top and bottom in the baking dish.

Again, I found the author’s oven settings to be different than mine.  He uses baking at 425º F. for 20 minutes, and we were done with 12 minutes at 425º and 3 more minutes at 400º.  Paired with a 2009 Giné Rosat from Priorat in Spain, it was a delightful dish.

ratatouille ratatouille-2 gine rosat

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Broiled Carrots, Tofu, and Shiitake Mushrooms — from “Pure Vegan”

Beautiful new (to us) cookbook, new recipe, delicious results — that’s the headline here.

Last week our daughter loaned us two cookbooks.  One of them was Pure Vegan, by Joseph Shuldiner, a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer.  The book is visually stunning, and his recipes seem creative, wholesome and very good to eat.  Barbara particularly liked this one (which I reproduce here with the author’s gracious permission).

recipe part 1 recipe part 2platter photo

I made a few adjustments:

  • half the salt — it already has plenty in the soy sauce
  • safflower oil instead of peanut oil
  • did not toast the sesame seeds (pure laziness)
  • increased the volume of marinade about 20% after the mushrooms soaked up most of the specified amount, so there would be enough for the carrots and tofu
  • shortened the broiling time (started at the broil 1 setting, 500º F on my Wolf range, and the mushrooms were done in half the time; then moved to broil 2 setting, 450º for the carrots and tofu, which also cooked more quickly).

Here’s how it came out:

serving plate

Since it was a cooperative venture, Barbara contributed her amazing avocado, tomato, cilantro and scallion salad for a solid hit on the vegetable and flavors scales:

avocado tomato cilantro salad

Because of the saltiness of the main dish, I went with bubbly for the wine (beer was the alternative) and chose a Prosecco, which went nicely.

Prosecco tonight


Conclusions were that (1) the recipes taste as good as they look, (2) our broiler does an amazing job without any preheating (I was dubious that the carrots would cook through), and (3) cutting the mushrooms in larger pieces (less surface area) and shortening their soak in the marinade should make them less salty and more balanced in the final dish.

Some days it really pays to be Pure Vegan.  Thank you, Joseph Shuldiner!

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Not-So-Vegan Supper, Dal for Lunch

Last night Barbara was in the mood for fish, so I made supper featuring a small (3.5 oz.) salmon fillet.  To make things interesting, and to add a modicum of choice to the meal, I made a little menu, similar to what she gives our grandsons for breakfast when they sleep over.  Here is her completed form: Salmon dinner choices   The most satisfying and inventive part of the meal was the raspberry vinegar-shallot reduction sauce for the salmon.  I put a few tablespoons of a raspberry-infused vinegar in a small, nonstick sauté pan, added a chopped shallot, and simmered until the shallot was tender and the liquid almost all evaporated.  Then added a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper, and warmed it again when the salmon was ready for the garnish. vinegar shallot reduction-09 vinegar shallot reduction-09-2   For me there is a strong association among these food memories: month of March, fresh salmon, and cabbage.  So next I pan roasted some sliced Napa cabbage until nicely caramelized, and I saved that as a base for the salmon, which itself was browned in a skillet, then finished in a 400º F. oven.  These were accompanied by steamed carrots and Yukon Gold potatoes, steamed, sliced, and finished with olive oil, parsley and salt. pan-roasted cabbage-09 salmon strip-09 salmon dinner plate-47   That made Barbara happy.  I was content with leftover stir fry from the previous night, supplemented with the remaining shallot concoction. …followed by Dal for lunch today  I’ve had a hankering again for Chana Dal, so after soaking a cupful of the dried dal overnight, I made it for lunch today.  Again, I used Mark Bittman’s article from a couple of years ago as my guide.  Julie Sahni’s tadka is a good model, so I sautéed two whole cloves in hot olive oil, added chopped garlic and serrano pepper, black mustard seeds, and less than 1/2 cup of Italian passato for the tomato.  This was stirred into the dal and served with two glasses of a superb Spanish Godello from Social Wines – 200 Cestos (thanks, John!).  Wholesome, delicious, ethnic, and vegan. stovetop-08 tadka-08 dal with tadka stirred in-09 200 Cestos-40

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Farewell, March

A heavy teaching schedule and a very bad cold knocked me off the blogging airways for most of this month.  To tell you the truth, March has never been my favorite month — or even close to it.  So I bid it farewell and provide you some glimpses of food highlights, what few there were.

Asparagus with Pine Nuts and Roasted Wild Mushrooms

asparagus mushrooms and pine nuts-19

Light Supper at Taberna de Haro — Setas a la Plancha and Pisto Manchego

supper at Taberna de Haro-53

Leftovers for Lunch

leftovers for lunch-16

Bean Crema and Tomato Soup,

Zucchini, Shitake and Ginger Risotto

soup and risotto on stove-22 zucchini mushrooms sofrito-59

Today’s Lunch:  My Own Pan-Roasted Walnut Levain Bread, with Greek Roasted Red Peppers, Cashew Cheese, Amfisa Olives, and a fine, old Brunello

walnut levain = bread & wine-22 walnut levain red pepper and cashew cheese-09-2 open face luscious-11 Brunello-14

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