Polenta

I hadn’t had real polenta before I went to Italy to learn how to cook. It was on the menu at La Locanda di Piero¬†where I was completing my internship. I had maybe had it once or twice there, not really thinking much of it. But, when I had Easter dinner at the home of one of the chef’s parents, only then did I grow to love it! It was served as a side to a large pan of roasted goat (first time with that too). It was plain, made with water and probably a touch of salt and olive oil. However, when topped with roasted goat and the juices from the pan, it was something that I’ll never forget. I’m not sure if it was the ambiance of being at a traditional Italian dinner as really the only one who spoke English, and NOT Italian. Or, if it was the few glasses of wine. Regardless, that was one of the most unforgettable meals of my life, and it was amazing in it’s simplicity.

The polenta was dumped from it’s pot out onto what I think was a large cutting board set behind the table, where we spooned our servings from. This method of serving porridge, as if it was the highlight of the meal, was what really stuck out to me.

Polenta is a traditional staple ‘peasant dish’ of Northern Italy who’s origins pre-date ancient Rome. It has become quite popular in the culinary world and can even be found in some of the worlds best restaurants. Throughout my time cooking, I had always been intrigued by traditional cuisine, mostly regional Italian, and the history behind food preparation and the ingredients. The focus on quality and simplicity is why it’s so interesting to me.

Most people would overlook this as a source of starch/ carbohydrate for meals. However, it is extremely versatile as it can be cut and grilled, sauteed, fried, roasted or broiled after it has cooled from it’s creamy porridge consistency. A half cup serving provides roughly 15-20 grams of carbs (depending on the ratio of liquid used) and pairs really well with meat and fish, or even as a stand-alone side. Some recipes call for boiling the coarse cornmeal in a mixture of water and milk (my favorite) with a little extra virgin olive oil and salt. Typically, you’d use a 3:1 ratio of liquid to cornmeal for a soft consistency. Top with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, and good quality olive oil for a tasty side dish.

Pork Loin Braised in Milk

This is a classic Italian recipe that results in a very flavorful, tender and juicy roast. Typically, a braise takes hours and no real attention is paid to the meat until it is “fork tender” or, almost falling apart. This is a bit different. Here, we want the internal temp of the pork roast to reach 145 degrees. Longer than that, the meat will end up dry and chewy.

Ingredients:

Boneless Pork loin Roast with a layer of fat about 1/4 in. thick, 5 lbs
3 small Onions, rough chop
6 stalks of celery, rough chop
8 cloves of garlic, skinned, halved
8 oz. Pancetta or bacon, rough chop
2 Cups White wine
4 sprigs of Rosemary with needles removed and chopped
6 Sage leaves, rough chop
4 Bay Leaves
4 Cups Whole Milk
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fresh Parsley and/or chive, chopped fine, to taste

Method of Prep:

  1. Set oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Using a Dutch oven, or heavy bottomed pot on high heat, season and sear pork loin on all sides with olive oil. Once nicely browned, remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and add bacon to render. Once rendered, pour off excess fat and then immediately add onions, garlic and celery to the pan, season vegetables with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium- high and stir frequently until the onions just start to caramelize.
  4. Add white wine and simmer until it reduces by half. Then add the milk, and bring to a simmer.
  5. Place the pork loin back in the pot and add the rosemary, sage and bay leaf. Cover, and finish cooking in the oven until the internal temperature comes to 145F. (roughly 90 minutes to two hours)
  6. When the pork has come to temperature, remove from pot and place on a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes. During this resting period the roast will carry over to about 155F, as you reduce the sauce at a simmer, by half. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  7. Slice and serve with sauce spooned over top and fresh herbs.

**Note; this classic recipe is not the most elegant looking meal! It’s rather bland in color. However, it does turn out pretty amazing in it’s depth of flavor.

Roasted Broccoli with Kalamata Olives, Garlic and Lemon

Here is a hearty vegetable recipe from the other night, with a little spice to it. I’ve been a big fan lately, of roasting vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, etc. as opposed to steaming, or blanching. In developing a much heartier character for the cold weather, it makes for a much more interesting flavor in many cases, and saves some time.

Ingredients;
3 Heads of broccoli, washed, cut into spears
8 cloves of garlic, peeled, minced
1 cup of Kalamata olives, chopped
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 Cup (+ some extra) of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Lemon
Parmesan Cheese
Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper

Method of Prep;

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat with garlic and pepper flakes. Careful not to let garlic brown. When the oil starts to bubble around garlic, cook for roughly two to three minutes and then remove from burner.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, drizzle garlic and pepper oil evenly over broccoli. Use a spoon, or your hands to toss the broccoli spears with oil, making sure that each spear is lightly coated. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Lay broccoli spears flat on a sheet pan lined with foil or parchment paper.
  5. Roast until broccoli spears are tender and (only very slightly) start to turn golden- brown on the edges. Then, remove from the oven.
  6. To serve, dress a serving with a very light drizzle of olive oil, a squirt of lemon juice, a small handful of chopped olives, a light sprinkle of nutmeg, and a dusting of Parmesan cheese.