Friday, October 31, 2008

baked polenta with italian sausage and vegetables

I've come to realize (already), that being a food stylist is no easy matter. This dish is so tasty and even tasty looking when it comes out of the oven, all hot and bubbly and cheesy. Unfortunately, the pictures I took did not do it justice. So I will omit the photos and you will have to use your imagination to picture this flavorful dish. The layer of golden polenta covered in spicy Italian sausage and tender sauteed vegetables, topped with melted Parmesan cheese. Mmmm... Looks good huh?
I love polenta. I think it may even be my favorite "starch", unless I happen to have some duck or goose fat at hand to roast potatoes in... mmm yummy. But you will have to wait for a future posting for that one!
The first time I bought polenta it came already cooked and in a tube. I thought it was horrible and wondered why anyone would like it. Then I discovered stone ground polenta, aka grits. You can get it in a finer grind, it's only cornmeal, but I like the texture of the stone ground. I use Bob's Red Mill brand which is usually found in the organic aisle.
This recipe is a very easy way to make polenta as it doesn't require frequent stirring like the stove top method. I like to use hot turkey Italian sausage for this dish but you could use regular pork Italian sausage if you prefer.

Baked polenta with Italian sausage and vegetables

1 1/2 cups stone ground corn grits
3 1/2 cups homemade or low sodium chicken broth (2 cans)
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1 - 20 oz package hot or sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 large red onion, diced
2 zucchini squash, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 red or yellow sweet bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 pound firm ripe tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch dice
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup (2 oz) shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 13 x 9 inch glass baking pan. Add the polenta, broth, milk and salt. Stir gently to combine and dot with butter. Cover with foil (non-stick foil works best), and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, stir and continue to bake for an additional 20 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed.
While the polenta cooks, heat 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it browns. Transfer sausage to a bowl. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up any brown bits in the pan. Reduce slightly and add to the sausage.
Add another 1 tbsp oil to the pan and saute the onion for a few minutes. Add the zucchini and peppers, season with salt and pepper and continue to saute for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes and sausage and cook for a few minutes, until the tomatoes start to soften and the liquid is mostly evaporated. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
When the polenta has cooked for 50 minutes remove it from the oven and stir gently with a fork. Top with the sausage-vegetable mixture and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
Cover, return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5 minutes, till Parmesan cheese is melted and slightly browned.
Serves 8
I would not freeze this recipe as the vegetables can get watery but it does reheat very well in the microwave.

It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato. ~Lewis Grizzard

Monday, October 27, 2008

hurricane hanna linguine and scallops

I belong to a group of 5 wonderful friends that we affectionately call the Yayas. I know. We stole it from the Rebecca Wells book, "the divine secrets of the yaya sisterhood". It's kind of corny but we all read the book and since we didn't have a name it kind of stuck. It fits. I can say "well the Yayas are going to do this or that" and it's easier than "well the friends that live all over the country and that I see every year are going to do this or that". Besides, our bond is so close that it indeed seems divine.
We didn't grow up together like the characters in the book. We all met in Texas, where none of us were from. There is a definite us and them feeling in Texas. Those that were born there and couldn't imagine living anywhere else and those that arrived later in life and wondered "where in the world did I land?". Most of us met at a church in the outskirts of Dallas and kind of glommed onto each other like fellow foreigners tend to do. After a few sun-baked years we began to move away, one by one. It was on a trip to Charlotte where two of my friends had moved to that our groupness, our Yayaness cemented. We knew that our friendships were important and we vowed to continue to meet yearly.
This year we met in Charleston, South Carolina. We like to go to places that have beaches, fun shopping and great restaurants. Charleston seemed like a perfect place to visit and it was, except that we were visiting during hurricane season. I suppose we thought, "what are the chances that we will be affected? Hurricanes can hit in many different places". We booked our non-refundable beach front condo. Perfect! Except Hurricane Hanna was heading straight for Charleston. Seeing as we only get together once a year this seemed like a reasonable risk to take and off we went.
For most of our time in Charleston the weather was perfectly agreeable. We headed for the beach as soon as we got there and got caught up in each other's lives. We ate in lovely courtyard restaurants and did the obligatory horse drawn carriage tour. But Hanna was coming and the restaurants were boarding up. As the clouds, wind and bands of rain started to roll in we headed for the grocery store and bought our provisions. I usually cook one meal for the group anyway and this was a good time for it. Which brings me to the recipe.
Technically, the storm was down-graded to a tropical storm by the time it hit us but tropical storm hanna linguine and scallops doesn't have the same ring to it as:

hurricane hanna linguine and scallops

I adapted this recipe from one I found in a Cooking Light magazine. My version has a little more cream and cilantro and a little less ginger. I also give a slightly larger portion of pasta to soak up the flavorful sauce. The result is a wonderful, unexpected taste compared to a typical pasta dish and is now my favorite recipe. The recipe is for 2 servings so you will have to do some math if you want to serve more. I know, it seems a great sacrifice to use a whole cup of wine, 1/3 of a bottle, but you will not be sorry.

1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon butter, cut up into small pieces
1 large tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon salt (I always use kosher or sea salt)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 ounces (dry weight) hot cooked linguine
olive oil
8 to 12 ounces large sea scallops, dried well with paper towels
salt and pepper
chopped cilantro

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium skillet; bring to a boil. Simmer until liquid is reduced to1/2 cup (about 5 minutes). Drain mixture through a fine sieve into a boil, reserving liquid; discard solids.
Return wine mixture to skillet. Add cream; cook over medium heat 1 minute. Add butter, stirring until it melts. Stir in tomato, 1/4 cup cilantro, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Add linguine; toss well and keep warm on very low heat.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add enough olive oil to keep scallops from sticking, about 1 tablespoon. Sprinkle scallops with a little salt and pepper and arrange in hot pan. Cook for 2 minutes on each side or until nicely browned and cooked on the inside.
Divide the linguine into 2 shallow wide bowls and top with the seared scallops. Garnish with more cilantro.

*Make sure that you dry the scallops very well and do not over-crowd the skillet. I made that mistake on one occasion and they simply wouldn't brown. Although still tasty, the scallops lacked that lovely brown crust that makes food so tasty.

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity. ~Voltaire