venerdì 30 novembre 2012

Improvisation II

The most delicious recipe in the world
is that which you make from the stuff
that you would have thrown away.

So I was cleaning the kitchen.  And I saw the very browned frying pan in which my wife Jeanette had made butternut squash with caramelized onions.  (She didn't intend for them to be THAT caramelized, but with two little ones running around the house ...)

So here was this pan, with the glorious bronze remains of this wonderful dish.  And the adjective "glorious" is never exaggerated when speaking of butternut squash.  (See Butternut Squash: Glory of the Fall Garden.) I was ready to take the pan to the sink.  But there was no way I could discard this burnt goodness.

I deglazed the dirty pan with one cup (8 oz., 237 g) of white wine.  At this point I still didn't know what I was going to make.  But I knew I had to save the flavors in this pan!

After adding the wine and scraping the pan for a minute or two, I added 14 oz. (400 g) of canned plum tomatoes, with their liquid.  Already in the pan was the remnants of the oil, butter, onions, and squash.  By chance, Jeanette happened to forget the garden sage. (Again, with two little ones running around ...) So I picked some sage and added it.  And I added more butter.  True to its name, butternut squash is very buttery and very nutty.  Having added the butter, I then added quite a good quantity of freshly ground nutmeg.  You wouldn't think nutmeg would go well with the tomatoes.  But the flavor was stupendous.

I cooked all of this down for 10-15 minutes.

While all this was going on, I made polenta.  I poured the sauce over polenta, and voilà!

Now, how does one make polenta?  Please don't buy the instant; the real thing is so easy to make that there's no need make that compromise.  I have tried many recipes for polenta, but the following is the best one, by Lidia Bastianich.  I have made it many times.

Lidia's Polenta

4 cups water, or use half milk for a richer taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon coarse salt 

1½ cups coarse yellow cornmeal 

In a medium cast-iron saucepan or other heavy pot, bring all ingredients except cornmeal to simmer over medium heat. 

Very slowly, begin to sift corn meal into the pan through the fingers of one hand, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk. (This operation will be greatly facilitated if the meal is scooped by the handful from a wide bowl.) 

Gradually sift remaining meal into the pan, continue to stir, and reduce heat to medium low. Continue to stir until the polenta is smooth and thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan as it is stirred, about 30 minutes. 

Discard bay leaf, pour polenta into a serving bowl or onto a wooden board, and allow it to rest 10 minutes. To serve from the bowl, dip a large spoon into hot water and scoop the polenta onto individual dishes, dipping the spoon into the water between scoops. To serve from the board, cut polenta into segments with a thin, taut string or knife and transfer to plates with a spatula or cake server. 

The above polenta recipe is from La Cucina di Lidia (1990).

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