Chippy

I’ve been going a bit polenta mad recently.  It has been turning up in my baking, as a side dish with a chop and some roasted red peppers and even in place of breadcrumbs for pané-ing.   But these chips take the (polenta) biscuit.  They are fun, delicious and ridiculously easy to make.

You could flavour them with anything that takes your fancy really, but I went with a goats’ cheese and rosemary combo.  Other ideas include chili and coriander, chives and sour cream, sage or just leave them salt-and-pepper-plain, of course.  The only thing I would say is do oven roast them, rather getting out the deep fat fryer.  Not only is this obviously much better for you and less faff, I actually find it the best method to retain any of those added flavours.

Goats’ Cheese and Polenta Chips

You will need:
250g polenta (ideally the quick cook variety)
Fresh Rosemary, finely chopped
100g Soft goats cheese
Sea salt
Pepper
Olive oil
Fresh torn herbs: rosemary, thyme

Method:

1.  Cook the polenta according the packet instructions.  I normally bring a big pan of salted water to boil (about 1L), or even stock for extra flavour, and then pour in the polenta in one steady stream.  It will bubble up something rather vulcanic, but be ready in no time at all.

2.  Remove from the heat and add the goats cheese, stirring until melted.  Pour into a baking tray so that the polenta is about 1 inch thick.  Smooth over slightly and leave to cool and set completely.          

3. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200 C.  Cut the cooled polenta into ‘chip’ like strips.  Place on a large roasting tray and drizzle over some olive oil, herbs, sea salt and pepper.  Toss to coat thoroughly.

4.   Bake for approx 30 minutes or until lightly golden and crispy.  Enjoy with a dip of your choice- I found chili jam was a bit of a match made in heaven.

Orange and Honey Polenta Cake

I made this cake some time ago now and (shock! horror!), took the photos on my old camera- it pains me now to think how much better they would have looked on my swanky new number.  But I hope this doesn’t detract from this wonderful, moist tea time treat I adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe.   I love baking with polenta and nuts instead of flour- it gives a subtle, nutty flavour and it absorbs moisture incredibly well, particularly the syrup used here.  I can also trick myself into thinking it is more virtuous than a cake made from white flour.  Enjoy with a middle eastern twist- some sliced oranges and mint, maybe drizzled with a little orange flower water if you have it to hand. 

Orange and honey polenta cake

You will need:
220g butter
220g caster sugar
150g almonds
150g ground almonds
3 large eggs
150g polenta (the quick cook variety is best)
1 tsp baking powder
zest and juice of 1 orange

For the syrup:
Juice of 2 lemons
Juice of 2 oranges
4 tbsp honey

Method:

1.  Line the base of a non-stick, loose-bottomed cake tin (20cm diameter will do nicely) with a piece of baking parchment. Set the oven at 180C/Gas 4.

2. Beat the butter and sugar in a food mixer till light and fluffy. Add the almonds.

3. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them lightly with a fork, then add to the mixture.

4.  Mix the polenta and baking powder, then fold into the mixture, together with the grated orange zest and juice.

 5.   Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 30 minutes, turn down the heat to 160C/gas 3 for a further 25 -30 minutes or until the cake is firm.  If it begins to burn or caramelise a bit on top, cover with tinfoil. 

6. To make the syrup, squeeze the lemon and orange juice into a pan, bring to the boil and dissolve in the honey.  Bubble away for about 5 minutes until you have a syrup. 

7.  Spike holes into the top of the cake (still warm and in its tin)with a skewer then spoon over the hot citrus syrup. Leave to cool before transferring from the tin. Serve in thick slices with thinly sliced fresh oranges and a little mint.  

Wild Garlic Leaves

I was in Victoria Park village the other week, on the hunt for some polenta for supper.  My travels took me to the delightful Deli Downstairs, which sells a wide range of delectable and interesting produce, not to mention those store cupboard essentials your local supermarket doesn’t stock, but really should (polenta).

Case in point- wild garlic, which can be hard to track down even now that it is in season.  This wonderful herb is actually called Ramsons and isn’t a type of garlic at all, but rather a member of the chive family.  The flavour packs even more of a punch, however, leaning towards an oniony kind of sweetness-  hence, I imagine, its moniker. 

I had a bit of a crisis of confidence when I got home with the stuff.  I put the fragrant leaves in a glass, covered with a sandwich bag and sealed with a rubber band (to keep fresh for longer in the fridge).  Every time I opened the fridge door, those bright green leaves greeted me and asked ‘what are you going to do with me?’  I had no idea.  I scoured the internet and restaurant menus, found all sorts of interesting salads I could toss together or use it to liven up lamb or add it to sautéed mushrooms (on toasted sourdough with a poached egg or some goats cheese) or even stir it, chopped finely, through some of that polenta.

But I didn’t want to do any of those things.  I wanted to give it a starring role.  And so, I resorted to the simplest solution: use it as a basil substitute in pesto.  The resulting jar is now almost finished, having made many a quick-fix lunch.  

Wild Garlic Pesto
(makes one jar)

You will need:
30g wild garlic leaves, stems removed
15g spring onions (I used only the green parts, for a milder flavour)
20g walnuts or pine nuts
75 g olive oil (not extra virgin- too strong), plus a tbsp or two extra
20 g Parmesan, grated
pinch of salt and pepper

Method:

1.  First of all, once you’ve got your wild garlic home, give it a good look over and toss out any crushed, pulpy leaves.  Then give the rest a quick rinse under the tap and leave to dry.  I say this because I didn’t follow this tip and then found a slug amongst the foliage, which had been quite happily munching its way through a few leaves.

2.  Get out your food processor and blitz the leaves with the spring onions, nuts and olive oil until smooth.

3.  Add the sugar, pepper and cheese and blitz again to incorporate all the ingredients.

4.  Pour the pesto into a sterilised jar.  Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the top before sealing.

5.  Serve with pasta or even meats such as lamb, chicken, etc.

What’s Up, Doc?

Dinner party table decorations: Spring greens in a vase and plump tomatoes.  Why not?

We had some friends round for dinner a couple of weekends ago and I’m afraid, dear reader, that I rather overdid it.  It’s been a good few months since we gathered a group around our hearth and broke bread.  So I decided to do five courses and make amends with the dinner party deities.

First up, a cocktail- the thyme martini, which is surprisingly light and refreshing.  Course numero uno was a mini beetroot mousse with horseradish cream (sort of inspired by this recipe).  Second, a light salad of smoked mackerel, apples, pickled shallots and dill vinaigrette (see my recent post) followed by an Italian style rabbit stew with added kick from a flavoursome gremolata.  This was served with cheesy polenta mash and lemony spring greens.  And that wonderful Sicillian aubergine stew, the camponata, for the vegetarian option, which was also livened up with gremolata.  A selection of cheeses, with pickles and honeyed walnuts and finally, the coffee granita and hazelnut choc-chip biscuits from the last post.  Personally, I could hardly move afterwards, so it may well have been a bit too excessive.  But these feasts happen so rarely…

For me, the real highlight was cooking with rabbit, a first for me.   It is surprisingly versatile and pretty straightforward to prepare.  Just a little bit bony perhaps.  I’m thinking some rabbit ragu with tagliatelle could work nicely for a future supper.  I just have to wait till the next time I’m in Crouch End to go to the wonderful Budgens (the only supermarket in the world to sell the produce they grow on their roof- they call it food from the sky), they stock a really decent selection of game and wild meats.  

Time for a cocktail: fragrant thyme martini

Thyme Martini

You will need:
A bunch of fresh thyme
150ml water
100 g caster sugar
vodka
lemon juice

Method:

1.  First, make the thyme syrup by combining the water, caster sugar and a handful of thyme (about 10 sprigs) in a pan.  Let this come to the boil and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes.  Take off the heat and leave to infuse overnight.

2.  Remove the sprigs and any stray leaves from the syrup and pour into a bottle or jar.  It will keep in the fridge nicely for a few weeks.

3.  To make a thyme martini, combine two shots of vodka and one shot each of the syrup and lemon juice.  Shake with ice and pour into a martini glass.  Decorate with a sprig or two of thyme.  Sit back, enjoy and pretend you are Don Draper.

Traditional hearty Italian rabbit stew with gremolata and polenta mash

Italian Rabbit Stew with Gremolata
Serves 6

You will need:
 100ml olive oil
4 celery stalks, diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 kg rabbit, jointed
200ml red wine
1L chicken stock
1 tbsp juniper berries
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp rosemary needles
2 bay leaves
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato purée
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the gremolata:
Large bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley
Zest of 2 lemon
3 cloves of garlic

Method:

1.  Heat the oil in your largest pan.  Add all of the vegetables and cook until softened, giving the pot a good stir every so often.  

2.  Add the pieces of meat and cook until browned on all sides.  If your pan isn’t quite big enough, you may want to do this in a separate frying pan, then add the rabbit to the pot with the veg.

3.  Pour in the wine, bring to the boil, then lower the heat until the mixture is simmering. Add the juniper berries, peppercorns,rosemary, bay and chopped tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes.  Then add enough stock to cover all the meat before finally stirring in the tomato purée.

4.  Continue to cook, uncovered, for two hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Season with salt and pepper.

5.  Meanwhile, make the gremolata.  Wash the flat leaf parsley and leave to dry (or use one of those salad spinners if you have one.) Finely chop the garlic cloves and I mean really finely.  Zest the lemon and finely chop the parsley.  Combine in a pretty bowl and leave to one side.

6.  Depending on your meat and your guests, you may want to make things easier for them by fishing out the joints and removing the meat from the bone.  Add this back to the stew and leave to simmer a few more minutes before serving.

7.  Serve with cheesy polenta mash and the bowl of gremolata for your guests to sprinkle liberally over the stew.

A Super Sunday Supper….

Fried Polenta with Goat’s Cheese, Gooseberry and Chili Relish in honour of Yotam‘s biggest fan and soon-to-be Londoner, Kate F.
Find the recipe here.

Washed down with plenty of cool Sangria- that bit is a must, really.