Saturday, March 8, 2014
I had never tried a true Italian polenta until my recent visit to Italy. When I went in Florence to a restaurant recommended to me by locals, I noticed a polenta dish on the menu. It sounded particularly interesting to me because it was not with the usual tomato sauce, which I am not a big fan of, but it was served with porcini. Without a second of hesitation I ordered polenta and waited anxiously to try it. Where should it be better prepared than in the heart of Tuscany?
It took 15-20 minutes before my dish was ready, which was just enough for me to enjoy a glass of local white wine with Tuscan bread. When polenta arrived, the dish was a generously large and pretty appetizing--lightly fried with an aromatic sauce on top. And it tasted even better.
Today, I decided to repeat the dish at home and use my supply of dried porcini from Poland. But, warned by my Italian friend that polenta is even more labor-intensive than risotto, I decided to take a shortcut and used a ready-made organic polenta (you can get it most Italian food stores or at Trader Joe's). I just made a good sauce from scratch. I was not disappointed at all and added polenta to my family's dinner menu.
Polenta with Porcini Sauce
1 lb ready-made polenta,
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms,
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream,
3 tbsp butter,
2 tbsp flat leaves parsley,
salt and pepper to taste,
freshly grated Parmesan to finish.
1. First wash the porcini in cold water and then soak them in a cup of room-temperature water for about an hour.
2. Cook porcini for about 30 minutes in the water they were soaking. During the cooking about half of the water should evaporate.
3. Preheat oven to 375F.
4. Grease a baking form with one tbsp of butter. Cut polenta into 1/2 inch-thick slices and spread in a baking dish. Put small pieces of butter on top.
5. Bake for about 40 minutes, until polenta becomes slightly gold on top.
6. Melt the rest of the butter in a heavy duty frying pan. Add chopped shallot and fry on a small heat for about 5 minutes. Add porcini with the water and cook together for about 5 minutes.
7. Add heavy whipping cream to the porcini, season with salt and pepper and cook additional 5 minutes or until it becomes thicker.
8. Pour the sauce on top of the baked polenta. Finish with a little bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
I admit that I have never planed or imagined to post today's recipe but it came up as a kind of emergency response. A friend of mine has been on a long-term antibiotic treatment. Because of that she has been suffering from stomach problems despite high doses of probiotic supplements that she has been taking along with her medications. After many complaints, her doctor advised her recently to add sauerkraut to her daily diet as a source of natural probiotics--good bacteria that can protect her intestinal tract from being totally sterilized. So she bought the best sauerkraut from the Whole Foods and called me for suggestions on how to prepare it.
Coincidentally, I have just read an article about how American doctors have been opening up to fermented food, known in other parts of the world, as a source of good bacteria that the processed food cannot provide. Sauerkraut was on that healthy list next to the so well-known in Poland half-sour pickles (in brine), sour milk (kefir), or Asian kimchi.
There is basically only one classic recipe for raw sauerkraut salad I can think of--a simple salad that we serve with meats, mostly pork chops in bread crumbs, or fish. When I compared some Polish recipes they all looked very similar and included onion and carrot. Some also added apple, but even without them the salad is sour enough, so you can skip the apples. However, hardly any of these recipes mentioned caraway seeds which in my home have always been added to all cabbage dishes to help digest them and neutralize the rather vigorous stomach reaction that cabbage sometimes causes. I love the taste of caraway seeds, particularly in this salad, but you either love them or hate them (like fennel seeds) so it is up to you. Either way, today's sauerkraut salad is a real trove of healthy nutrients as besides the probiotics it is also rich in calcium, iron, and vitamins B and C.
Polish Sauerkraut Salad
2 lb sauerkraut,
2 large carrots,
1 medium onion,
1 tsp caraway seeds,
2 tbsp sugar,
4 tbsp vegetable light oil (canola, rice bran, or grape seed),
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaved parsley, freshly ground pepper to taste.
1.Drain the sauerkraut on a colander and place in a large bowl.
2. Peel off and grate the carrots on a grater with large holes.
3. Peel off and chop the onion.
4. Add carrot, onion, parsley, and caraway seeds to cabbage and mix.
5. Season the salad with sugar, pepper, and oil. Mix again. Let marinate for 20 minutes and serve.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
During my recent visit to Rome, I have tried many dishes, especially local ones that until then I only had read about. Besides sight-seeing the beautiful city, on the days when it was raining most heavily, I spent hours going through all kinds of food stores looking at the shelves and products they offer. And later, I bothered my friend's mother with hundreds of questions about what I ate, saw, and should try next. I wish I could bring all the food stores with all the vegetable and cheese sections back to America.
But instead, in addition to a huge chunk of genuine Parmesan, I came home with more admiration for Italian cuisine and with many magazines and books with recipes that I now try every day. But because pastas and pizzas are my family favorites no one complained so far.
When I was in Rome, me friend's mother in law gave me an Italian cook book that I have been since studying a lot, looking for new inspirations. Last week, I prepared a dish that looked interesting to me. And I was right--easy yet delicious it became one of my favorites.
This baked endive is similar to the French dishes I ate in France but, instead of béchamel, it uses cream and pancetta, which makes this dish even simpler. It has slightly bitter taste as endive often has, but the creamy sauce flavored with pancetta balances it and makes it perfect. And a piece of fresh baguette with a glass of wine makes it simply irresistible.
Endive Baked with Pancetta
4 tbsp unsalted butter,
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs,
4 oz sliced and finely chopped pancetta (I used the one from Trader Joe's),
4 tbsp chopped flat leaved parsley,
juice from one lemon,
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan,
1 cup heavy whipping cream,
salt and pepper to taste.
1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Cut a small piece of the butter and use it to grease bottom of an oven proof dish.
3. Cut endives lengthwise and place them the dish the cut side up.
4. In a medium bowl mix pancetta, parsley, breadcrumbs, half of the Parmesan, salt an pepper, and scatter on top of endives. Drizzle with lemon juice and pieces of remaining butter.
5. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.
6. Remove the foil, pour the cream with Parmesan on top, and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the cream turns into a thicker sauce.
7. Serve hot with white breads.