When a girl is asked out by her sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, she usually says yes – but a trip to the dentist at 8.30am on Saturday morning to sit in the waiting room and listen to the sounds of his teeth being drilled was not that tempting. I declined. Happily, E’s teeth were feeling much better by evening so we could enjoy a nice Valentine’s dinner.
Last year in late February I had purchased a set of heart shaped cookie cutters. So this year when I decided to make polenta on Valentine’s Day, I realised I had the opportunity to use them. The recipe I had in mind is pictured in Vikki Leng’s A Vegetarian Feast and often caught my eye when I browse through that cookbook. The antipasto polenta was full of chunks of olive and sundried tomato and spring onion that made tricky work of cutting out shapes. But it was fun to do.
More successful was my experiment with cooking polenta in the microwave. I have wanted to be able to do this ever since making Polenta and Quinoa Sticks mid last year. I found a recipe on the net but ended up changing it a little. I added more water and cooked it a bit longer but was pleased that it was easy to see when it was ready. I’ve always hated the hard work of stirring polenta which is like battling an angry belching volcano of lava. Now I have made my first foray into polenta in the microwave there will be no looking back.
Both the Vikki Leng recipe and the microwave recipe suggested serving the polenta warm but I have always liked Vikki’s picture of it grilled and a little crispy around the edges. I cooked it in the oven and it was nice but I think I preferred it the next night when I reheated it under the grill (broiler). The onion and garlic in the mixture was a bit harsh uncooked so it I was to serve it soft I would reduce these. But if you don’t have time to let it set and cook, then this is a good alternative.
I wanted to keep dinner simple and served the polenta with a marinated tomato salad, which was quite vinegary, and a sauce of apricot chutney and yoghurt. I decided not to make a dessert because we had enough good sweet treats in the house: fruit salad, icy poles, choc chip cookies, and cookies & cream ice-cream. I had fruit salad and E chose the one dessert I had bought at the supermarket rather than made myself! He did redeem himself by telling me that it was the nicest polenta he had ever had because he really liked it with all the flavourings.
(adapted from Vikki Leng and cooks.com)
serves 4-5 with a side dish
3½ cups water
1 cup cornmeal
2 tbsp. butter (optional)
½ tsp salt (optional)
6 spring onions, finely sliced
¼ cup semi-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
¼ cup marinated pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
½ cup finely chopped parsley (or basil)
Oil spray for grilling or baking
Place all polenta ingredients in a large microwave safe bowl. Stir and cover. Microwave on High for 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, or until mixture has thickened to a porridge-like consistency.
Stir flavourings into warm polenta and spread on a lined lamington (or swiss roll) tray (approx 9 x 13 inch). Leave to cool for about 2 hours. After this time it should be firm enough to cook but you could place in the fridge another couple of hours or overnight to really firm it up. (Alternatively, you could serve it soft and warm straight away but you may wish to reduce the spring onions and garlic.)
Once the polenta is firm, use cookie cutters or a sharp knife to cut into shapes – I did hearts, Vikki did triangles. You could also do rectangles or circles. Place on an oven tray and spray with oil. Bake at 200 C for about 40 minutes or til crisp, turning over halfway through baking. Or cook under the grill or on a frypan.
Marinated Tomato Salad
(adapted from Vikki Leng)
2 tomatoes, sliced
½ small (200g) jar of artichokes, chopped
1 spring onion, chopped
1 handful parsley, finely chopped
1 handful baby spinach
1 handful rocket
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
½ tbsp oil from jar of artichokes
½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tbsp red wine vinegar
cracked black pepper
To make dressing, whisk all ingredients in a small bowl OR place in a jar and screw lid on tightly and shake to combine.
Place tomatoes, artichokes, spring onion and parsley in a small salad bowl. Pour dressing over and toss to combine. Set aside for 10-15 minutes.
To serve, place spinach and rocket leaves on a plate. Arrange tomato mixture on top of this and drizzle with any additional dressing.
On the stereo:
The Yellow Guide: Classical Music (Deutsche Grammophon): Various Artists