Oh, my poor neglected food blog! Which is about to be even more neglected, as with an election approaching (timed, by the look of it, to clash most vilely with the grant application high season at work), and more than 50 parties registered with the AEC, I am going to be very busy on my politics blog, with little time to write about anything else.
But before I disappear into the far less pleasing world of politics and grants, here’s a recipe I made last weekend, when, as you may have noticed, Melbourne decided to have some winter. Which coincided with my walking group deciding to go for a long walk, with the company of icy winds and a little bit of freezing rain. Even now, I feel as though I haven’t entirely warmed up.
And there is something especially warming about polenta. It’s the hot, cheesy mushiness that does it, I think. It’s almost as good as the laksa which my angelic brother made for me after the Long Walk of Extreme Coldness.
I’m calling this Romanian polenta, because we first had it at the home of one of my mother’s students, who was an immigrant – perhaps a refugee? It was a long time ago and I think the Ceausescu family were still in power – who told us it was peasant food, cheap, and filling at first, but you were always hungry afterwards. I suspect the second half of that statement was a lie to make us feel less bad about accepting hospitality – polenta really is quite filling. My mother’s student made the polenta quite plain, just the polenta grain and water, but at the end, she choped cheese – Edam, I think – into long sticks, and inserted them into the polenta, and left them to melt into lovely gooey columns. This has been my benchmark for polenta ever since.
The cauliflower may or may not be Sicilian, but would certainly be more Sicilian if it were Romesco. But chilli, pine nuts, currants and saffron are all fairly Sicilian ingredients. I suspect a true Sicilian would also add anchovies, but I am No True Sicilian! (Indeed, despite my surname, I am also No True Scotsman! I do at least have Southern Italian heritage, but Sicilian it is not).
This recipe serves 4 pretty precisely.
Your Shopping List
- 1 cup polenta
- olive oil
- 1 brown onion
- 1/2 a cauliflower (or a whole cauliflower, if it’s small), cut into small florets
- a pinch or two of salt
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, or more if you like things super spicy
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup currants
- a few big pinches of saffron
- 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 65 g havarti or edam cheese
Now what will you do with it?
Start the polenta (unless you are making instant polenta, in which case, leave this to the end). Bring 4 cups of water to the boil, and add a little salt.
Pour the polenta into the saucepan in a thin stream, whisking as you do. Keep whisking as it starts to thicken, turning the heat down as low as you can (if you have a heat diffuser, it’s excellent for this). Cover, and cook for 40 minutes, taking the lid off every ten minutes to stir.
Halve the onion, and slice thinly. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a skillet, and add the onion. Sauté over medium heat until it is soft beginning to colour. Meanwhile, crush the garlic, and pour half a cup of hot water over the saffron in a small bowl.
When the onion is looking delicious, add the garlic and stir for a minute or so, then stir in the cauliflower florets, salt and chilli flakes, and sauté for a few minutes, until the cauliflower starts picking up some colour (I did not add salt, and the mixture wanted it. I suspect this is because it is sufficiently Sicilian that what it really wants here is anchovies. But it is not getting anchovies because anchovies are *disgusting*.). Add the pine nuts and the currants, and stir for another minute. Add the saffron water, and cook until this is reduced by about half.
Finally, add the tinned tomatoes, stir well, and lower the heat. This can now keep cooking happily until the polenta is ready.
Slice the cheese into sticks. Once the polenta is about five minutes from being done, take off the lid, and gently insert the cheese sticks into the polenta until almost covered.
Put the lid back on, and let the cheese melt into the polenta for a few minutes.
Serve a nice ladleful or two of polenta to each person, and divide the cauliflower mixture between the plates.
This recipe is vegetarian, gluten-free and egg-free. You could, of course, make it dairy-free by skipping the cheese (though this would be a very sad choice); if you did, I would recommend making the polenta with vegetable stock instead of water, to give it a bit more flavour. The pine nuts can be skipped if these are a problem for you. Polenta has a pretty high glycemic index, but you could serve the sauce with al dente pasta, which is a bit better, and it would probably be quite good with some chickpeas stirred in, thus adding protein and lowering the glycemic index somewhat. I’d then add parmesan or a vegan parmesan alternative to it, personally.
Obviously, if you are the sort of twisted character who actually likes anchovies, I feel that they would work well in this recipe – though I have no idea what quantities you would want. Skip the salt in that case.