January 19, 2011

A Sicilian meal in Taormina

Italians serve polenta at least 100 ways, as an antipasto, a main course, a side dish or even breakfast. Unlike pasta it is not always served as a primo (first course). Polenta can be served as an antipasto with drinks when cut into small shapes, fried and served hot with chunks of Parmesan or cubes of mortadella. When slices are fried in oil or brushed with butter and grilled, they become crostini de polenta, delicious crunchy “toasts” which can be served with a tasty topping. As the secondo (main course), polenta is traditionally served on a wooden board topped with a rich meat or fish sauce/ragu. It can also be layered like lasagna and baked with cheeses, vegetables or a meat sauce. Sliced polenta is grilled or fried and served as an accompaniment to meat, game and fish. And don’t forget breakfast and my alternative to pancakes - fry polenta slices in butter until crisp and drizzle with maple syrup.

This is the traditional Abruzzese rustic polenta feast, typically shared on a cold winter day with family and friends. The polenta is poured onto a very large wooden or marble board on the dining table. The top is smoothed and indented a bit in the center. The host then pours the sauce over the polenta and arranges the whole sausage in the center. Everyone digs in with forks or serving spoon, until they meet in the center to get to the sausage.
Such a substantial meal should not be preceded by an antipasto or a first course.
 Irma Mori (Jay's Mom) had explained this to  me during the holidays while they were visiting in Atlanta.
Her Italian mother-in-law always prepared their rustic Polenta feast in this manner!
Irma and Jay

1/4 Cup good olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
optional: crushed, dried hot pepper
1 lb. Italian pork sausages (sweet or spicy), casings removed and crumbled, plus 1 whole spicy sausage casing on and pierced
6-8 pork ribs cut in half, giving 12-16 pieces
3/4 C. dry red wine
2 cans peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped, reserving 1 C. juice (or 2 lb. peeled, coarsely chopped plum tomatoes)
2 T. tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
2 T. chopped parsley
Parmigiano Reggiano and or Pecorino Romano, grated

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onions, celery, carrot and garlic and optional hot pepper until lightly colored. Reduce the heat and add the crumbled sausage meat.
Separately in a large sauté pan (do not use a non-stick pan), cook the ribs and the single sausage until browned, season with salt & pepper. Add the cooked ribs and sausage to the large saucepan with the cooked vegetables and sausage meat. Pour in the red wine and let it evaporate over high heat.
Add the tomatoes with the juice or 1 C. hot water and the tomato paste. Season with S & P. Reduce the heat to med-low, cover the pan and let the mixture cook for about 30 min. until the sauce has reduced. If the sauce has not thickened after 30 minutes, uncover the pan and simmer slowly until the sauce has reduced. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, stir in the parsley and keep warm.
Prepare the polenta while the sauce is cooking.
Pour the sauce over cooked polenta as described above. Dust with grated cheese.

This is one of The Maine House favorites for those special occasions!

Stuffed Chicken with Marsala, Figs, and Goat Cheese
5 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup dried Mission figs, diced
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water, optional
Polenta, recipe follows

In a small bowl mix together the goat cheese, 1/4 cup of the figs, orange zest, and nutmeg. Set aside.
Make a pocket in each chicken breast by pressing flat down on the breast with the palm of your hand and making an incision in the thickest part of the breast, carefully pivoting the knife to create a deep pocket, keeping the other side of the breast intact. Stuff each breast with the cheese mixture. Secure with toothpicks if needed. Lightly season the outside of the breast with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in large skillet. Brown the chicken on both sides, about 6 to 7 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan.
Deglaze the pan with the Marsala wine. Add the chicken stock, butter, and remaining figs. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. If desired, slightly thicken the sauce with the corn starch and water mixture. Return the chicken to the pan, cover, and simmer until the thickest part of the chicken reaches 160 degrees F, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from pan and slice each breast crosswise. Serve with the polenta. Spoon sauce over the chicken.

1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
4 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup finely Parmesan
3 tablespoons butter

In a medium saucepan, bring stock, milk, and half-and-half to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the cornmeal. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheeses and butter. Serve immediately.

This rustic hearth cake is a variation of a cake called Zaletti, a specialty of Treviso. It is most tasty served warm with a dollop or two of fresh whipped cream. Hopefully there will be some leftover to warm in the microwave for breakfast.

1 C. coarse corn meal
2 C. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T. butter
1 lb. ricotta, drained overnight in the refrigerator, in a cheesecloth lined strainer over a bowl
1/2 C. sugar
1/2 C. raisins, plumped in rum, drained
grated rind of 1 lemon
pinch cinnamon
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 C. slivered almonds, toasted in butter
1/4 C. chocolate bits
powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bring the milk to a boil and add the corn meal in a steady thin stream. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When all the corn meal has been absorbed, add the salt and the butter. Continue to stir for about 15 more min., until it pulls away from the pan. Remove from the heat.
Combine the ricotta and the sugar in a large bowl and mix very well with a wooden spoon. Add the polenta to the ricotta mixture, stir until smooth. Add the drained raisins, lemon rind and cinnamon. Mix well. Add the eggs individually, mixing thoroughly. When cool, add the almonds and chocolate.
Butter a loaf pan. Transfer the batter to the pan, level off and bake for about 50-60 min. Remove from the oven and cool for at least 30 min. Unmold and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of rum flavored sweetened whipped cream.

Our favorite Cucina Italiana in Boston

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