Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cornmeal as Comfort Food

The fact that an inexpensive bag of cornmeal can be the beginning of so much delicious pleasure is just one of those fabulous things about food that gives me such enjoyment. With the addition of an egg, some milk, a touch of sugar and some flour, you're 20 minutes away from warm cornbread. That, some honey or maybe that homemade apple butter and baby, you won't hear a word outta me for awhile. On the rare occasion when you have leftovers, stuff some chicken breasts.
Just cut the cornbread up in cubes and toast them off in the oven. Then sauté some onion, garlic, celery and carrots in plenty of butter, add some fresh thyme & rosemary and a handful of dried cranberries. Continue to cook, add a splash of wine, maybe Madeira to plump up the cranberries, and add to the cornbread croutons. Mix it up and add chicken or turkey stock to moisten well. Butterfly and pound out some chicken breasts (or turkey cutlets), season and place stuffing on the meat. Roll them up, tie them, and sauté to give a golden color. Finish in the oven and serve with a light stock and Madeira reduction.
And let’s talk polenta, better yet let's eat polenta. Especially soft polenta, rich with a generous spoonful of mascarpone, a few swirls of melting gorgonzola dolce and chopped toasted walnuts. Oooooh baby, baby. OK, I'm already ahead of myself.
First a question, did any of you eat cornmeal mush? And, whether you did or didn't, can you imagine a less appealing name for something? I'm not sure if it's a regional dish... I remember it from vacations in Michigan. It came in a plastic tube (like slice and bake cookie dough) and my Mom would slice and sauté it. Sorry, Mom never sautéed anything, she fried it... and then served it with pancake syrup. This chubby boy was all over that.
What I realize now, is that was polenta. Granted, nothing any Italian would recognize, swimming in Mrs. Butterworth's. But even at that tender age I knew I'd bitten into something worth eating. And something with plenty of possibilities.

Soft Polenta with Mascarpone, Gorgonzola and Walnuts
Based on a dish at Union Square Cafe in NYC
Combine 3 cups milk and 2 cups chicken stock in a pot and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of instant polenta. Stir thoroughly to avoid lumps. Lower heat. With a LONG wooden spoon or heat resistant spatula continue to stir and cook according to package directions. (As polenta cooks and simmers it can send up small blobs of polenta that will burn you like the molten lava that it is, so gloves are not a bad idea.) When finished, remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup mascarpone. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped toasted walnuts and crumbled gorgonzola.

Another polenta dish comes out of my catering years, when I am always looking for first courses that could be done in huge numbers and preset. I came up with the idea of a polenta terrine, enriched with Asiago cheese and garnished with grilled artichoke hearts and roasted tomatoes. These days I grill off a top quality canned stemmed artichoke hearts and slice purchased roasted red and yellow tomatoes. You can follow the above recipe and mold it in a loaf pan, chill, slice and serve. Sometimes I stir kalamata olives into the polenta.
Experiment and enjoy my pretties. Gurfren Sue mentions that Indian Pudding is a worthy dessert using cornmeal that I need to explore. So much gruel, so little time...
As always,
Contented Eating,
Big Mary

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