Monday, March 15, 2010

Cooking Something Different

Polenta is a dish that has little flavour of its own, and so often not made because of this. But then rice and pasta have no flavour either, but for some reason we don't bother about this because we know that itt is what we add or serve to these that makes them 'interesting'. And we can do the same with cornmeal/polenta.

Basically, polenta is made by heating cornmeal with water to make a very thick mixture which is then poured into a tin and left to set. Sometimes slices are cut which are then fried and served with a savoury sauce, or the mixture can be used 'plain' as in the following recipe.

Many chefs add flavour to the basic polenta by making it with a good chicken or vegetable stock instead of plain water, and this is an excellent idea. The more flavour we can put in the better. Various seasonings can also be added. We can experiment and make it taste how we wish.
Am using canned plum tomatoes in this dish as they always seem richer in flavour than the cans of chopped toms. But either can be used. Either blitz up plum tomatoes to turn them into a puree, or chop them up when they have been tipped into the pan.
Baked Cheese Polenta: serves 4
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 oz (75g) Gruyere or other mild cheese, grated
1.75 pints (1 ltr) water
good pinch salt
9 oz (250g) cornmeal or quick cook polenta
1 tsp paprika pepper
half tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 tblsp olive oil
1 x 400g (14oz) cans plum tomatoes
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Put the water and salt in a pan and bring to the boil then slowly pour in the cornmeal/polenta, stirring all the time, and keep stirring for 5 minutes. Beat in the paprika and nutmeg and cook until the mixture is thick enough for the wooden spoon to stand upright in it.
Line a Swiss roll tin with cling-film, and pour the polenta into this, levelling the surface. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion until softened, then stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute before adding the tomatoes (if using plum tomatoes chop them when in the pan), the tomato puree, and sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes, then add seasoning to taste.
Cut the now cold polenta into 2" (5cm) squares and layer these, with the tomato sauce, in a shallow greased ovenproof dish. Cover with the grated cheese and bake for 25 minutes at 200C, 400F, gas 6, until the top is golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.

This next recipe is for Semolina Cake, which - in this instance - is a cross between cake and pudding, and made by the hob method, rather similar to making polenta, but using syrup and not just water, also it does not need baking in an oven. It would probably work just as well if cornmeal was used and not semolina.
Semolina Cake: serves 6 - 8
1.75 pints (1 litre) water
1 lb 2 oz (500g) caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
8 fl oz (250ml) light olive oil
12 oz (350g) semolina
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Put the sugar and water in a heavy pan and add the cinnamon stick. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Boil for 4 minutes - without stirring - to make a syrup.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan and when hot, add the semolina, stirring until its colour changes to light brown, then lower the heat and add the almonds, and cook together for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside.
Remove the cinnamon stick from the hot syrup, and gradually add the syrup to the semolina mixture, always keep stirring, but don't look down into the pan as the mixture may spit at the start. When combined, return pan to the heat and cook//stir until all the syrup has been absorbed and the mixture is smooth.
Remove from heat, cover with a cloth and leave to stand for 10 minutes, the spoon or scrape the mix into an 8 or 9 inch round cake tin and leave to cool.
When cold, turn out onto a serving dish and sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Serve sliced.

The final recipe today is not a 'use-up' one (unless you have plain flour past its b.b. date) but unusual in that is a loaf of bread that is baked on a hob and not in the oven, so thought it well worth a try. Ordinary plain flour (type we used when making pastry etc) is the one to use, as the strong bread flour doesn't work in this recipe.
In the old days a 'bakestone' was used - this being a thick flat piece of iron that is sometimes called 'girdle', which - if lucky enough to have one (I did but stupidly gave it to one of our daughters) can be used instead of the heavy frying pan used in the recipe. But all in all, a heavy frying pan is just a bakestone with sides, so not that much difference. A DRY frying pan/griddle can be heated in advance - safely - for there is nothing (like oil or other fats) that will burn when heated. Often it is better (and safer) to heat a frying pan first, then add oil when ready to cook. Small amounts of oil heat almost instantly, and whatever needs frying (steak, onions etc) can be added at the same time. When putting oil in a cold pan to heat up, comes a knock at the kitchen door, or some other distraction, the oil left a minute too long and it ends up burnt (or catches fire).

Bakestone Bread: makes 1 loaf
1 x 7g sachet instant dried yeast
5 fl oz (150ml) milk
5 fl oz (150ml) water
half ounce (15g) butter, cut into small pieces
1 lb 2 oz (500g) plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sunflower oil
Put the flour into a bowl with the salt, sugar and yeast. Put the butter, water and milk into a small pan and heat gently until luke-warm, then pour this into the dry mix, stir with a knife to gather into a ball.
Tip onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth, firm and elastic. Put the oil into a bowl and place in the dough, turning until the surface of the dough has a covering of oil, then cover the bowl with cling film or a damp cloth, and leave in a warm place to rise (up to a couple of hours) or until the dough has doubled in size.
Tip the dough onto a floured board, and this time knead gently (aka 'knock back') just until the dough is again smooth.
Using a rolling pin, gently flatten the surface to make a round approx 8" wide and 3/4" deep. Leave to stand for 15 minutes to allow the dough to relax.
Meanwhile, heat a dry frying pan over medium heat, then carefully (using a paddle, fish slice or hands) carefully lift the dough onto the hot pan and leave to cook gently for 20 minutes, then turn the bread over and cook the other side for a further 20 minutes.
Both top and bottom crusts will end up crusty and brown, the sides remain pale and soft. Place on a wire rack/cake airer to cool.