Saturday 27 April 2013

Polenta and cauliflower - two ways (and Fitzroy Market)

Planning dinner often fills me with delusions of a calm evening around the kitchen table eating a meal of perfectly balanced nutrition.  My plans usually include wonderful side dishes that never see the light of day.  Sometimes I have leftovers and a chance to make amends.  So it was with these recent polenta, cauliflower and pea fingers.

I found the Cauliflower, pea and parmesan polenta 'chips' in one of my old food magazines.  It looks simple and impressive.  Making polenta in the microwave is indeed simple but making it in time to pick up Sylvia from child care was a little more rushed than I planned. 

When you look at my attempt, you will see why I renamed mine fingers rather than chips.  E actually commented that they reminded him of the vegetables fingers (the vegetarian version of fish fingers) that you can buy in the freezer section of the supermarket.  I can see it. 

I decided to follow the recipe and fry these on the stovetop.  They were mighty crispy but fragile.  Polenta becomes so soft once hot that it is hard to handle.  They collapsed at the merest sniff of the tongs and even an eggflip (spatula) challenged them.

I think I would have liked to try spraying them with oil and baking them.  Not only to be more healthy but because the night might have been less hectic.  Though I don't think I can blame them for the spilled milk,  the tofu bacon that was eaten before I had a chance to cook it or the avocado that wasn't as ripe as it felt. 

Dinner time was so chaotic that we ate quite a few of the 'fingers' once they had cooled enough to eat them.  Finally I managed to throw together a simple salad and pile more fingers on the plate.  Not the most satisfying of meals.  At least there were a few fresh vegies on the side. Sylvia had a few fingers but had to pick out the peas.  Sigh!

The next day we went to Fitzroy Market.  It is always interesting to look around and see what is on offer.  I bought the old telephone in the picture above for a mere $5.  It is very similar to the one we had in my childhood home.  It is just a plaything for Sylvia.  Sharing a bit of my childhood with her.  If I had the energy I would like to see if it works.  Hear it ring.

The market focuses on clothes and brickabrack.  There are always a few stalls selling food.  The sausage and jam stalls have been a constant since we started going last year.  More recently there is a sourdough bread stall and the lovely icy pole lady.  We always have a vegetarian sausage off the BBQ.  I had a rhubarb and raspberry icy pole that I gobbled up quickly.  Sylvia dilly-dallied over her chocolate avocado one.  She hadn't made much of a dint when it somersaulted over her clothes and into the dirt.  I bought her a cupcake. 

We stopped at the supermarket on the way home and bought doughnuts, among other things.  At home I knew what I wanted to make.  Cauliflower seems a food blogging favourite lately.  (It has come a long way since the 1960s if the disparaging remark about cauliflower fritters on George Gently tonight is anything to go by) As well as being inspired by cauliflower rice, I have also seen some interesting roasted cauliflower recipes.

I couldn't go past the novelty of a recipe that had mashed banana included in the coating.  (It was there for binding more than taste.)  These polenta coated cauliflower were not too difficult.  The baked polenta on the florets was slightly grainy as polenta can be but a nice addition to dinner.  I still had some leftover polenta fingers.  This night I made some simple tomato sauce and steamed some green beans over the sauce.  Amazing what can be done with a little more time and energy.

We sat at the table eating a interesting plate of food.  Different textures and colours. It was just as I had imagined when I made the polenta fingers.  Smiles.  The gentle clinking of the knife and fork on the plate.  Intelligent chit chat.  Well not quite.  Sylvia said she was unwell and didn't want to eat her dinner but there were no tantrums and she did eat a reasonable amount - with some gentle persuasion.  Then we played snap with her Playschool cards and she went to bed.  Why can't more nights be like that!

I am sending the polenta fingers to Jacqueline for Bookmarked Recipes and the cauliflower bites to Ricki for Wellness Weekends.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Purple Pomegranate Stew
Two years ago:  Royal Wedding chocolate fridge cake
Three years ago: Grumpy's Green - well fed with eco cred
Four years ago: WTSIM ... Retro Parkin
Five years ago: Toothpicks, Tacos, and Oaxaca

Cauliflower, pea and parmesan polenta fingers 
Adapted from BBC Australian Good Food Guide, April 2009 (using my previous polenta cooking experience)
serves 3 to 4

1 cup polenta
1 cup milk (I used soy)
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp salt
shake of smoked paprika
1/4 large cauliflower, boiled til soft and mashed
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Place polenta, milk, water, salt and smoked paprika into a large heat proof bowl.  Cook in the microwave until a thick porridge, stirring every 2 minutes.  I think it took me about 8 minutes.  Mix in cauliflower mash, peas and cheese.  Tip into a greased and lined swiss roll tin and use the back of a spoon to spread until fairly flat and even.  Set aside an hour or two to cool.

Cut cooled polenta into fingers (I think I made about 18 fingers - ie 3 x 6).  Heat about 1/2 cm of canola oil in a large frypan.  Fry polenta in batches (I did 3) until crisp and golden brown on both sides.  Use an eggflip (spatula) to flip over - I tried using tongs and the polenta fingers collapsed but the tongs were useful to steady the fingers I was flipping over.  It took a while to fry all the fingers but worth doing it all even if some go into the fridge for the next day.

Eat hot.  Suggest serving polenta fingers with tomato sauce and steamed vegetables  or salad.

Crispy cauliflower bites
Adapted from Including Cake
serves 3 to 4

1/4 large cauliflower
1/2 banana, mashed
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp ground linseeds (flax seeds)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup polenta
oil spray

Trim cauliflower and chop into florets.  Cover florets with boiling water in a saucepan (and a pinch of salt wouldn't go astray).  Bring to the boil and then boil about 1 minute (this took me about 5 minutes).

Mix banana, water, nutritional yeast flakes, linseeds, smoked paprika, soy sauce and salt in a medium mixing bowl.  Toss cauliflower florets in smoky mixture.  Place polenta in another medium mixing bowl and use a spoon and fork to dip individual cauli florets into the polenta and then into an oiled large roasting dish.  Place florets in one layer with a little room to crisp up.

Spray polental florets with oil.  Bake at 180 C for 60 minutes until crisp.  (Warning: The 'Including Cake' recipe did them at a lower temperature for shorter time - her oven must be far more powerful than mine.)

On the Stereo:
Folk is not a four letter word - Various Artists


  1. I am rather enjoying the cauliflower love... roasted cauliflower really is delicious and the only way I have been able to get my Mom to eat it (sprinkled with some dukkah). But the banana here is so totally mesmerizing... and caramelized deliciousness?

    1. Thanks Janet - I bought a large cauliflower and enjoyed working my way through it - so many great ways to eat it. The banana wasn't so noticeable but I liked the idea for old banana

  2. I've had my challenges with polenta batons too - whenever I've fried them, that lovely crust has stubbornly stuck to the pan and refused to transfer to our plates! I've had some success grilling them instead, and I have a friend who regularly oven-bakes lovely polenta chips.

    1. Thanks Cindy - I often grill burgers rather than fry or bake and it always makes them crispy with minimal handling so I think this would probably work far better for me. Oven baked polenta chips also sounds preferable

  3. I feel very backwards confessing that I have never made polenta at home. I don't know why, other than that we always have so many other grains cluttering up the pantry that it's hard to justify another, but I have loved it on the occasions I've eaten it outside my own home. I'll have to buy some so I can try these recipes out now (thanks for giving me the justification needed!) - I like the sound of the cauliflower in particular. Banana in the coating is very intriguing.

    It's amazing to think how much telephones have changed since my childhood years too. We had a phone like the one you bought in my early years, but these days we have the hands free options everyone seems to have - and could almost do without a home phone line at all in truth.

    1. Thanks Kari - I always have polenta in my cupboard because I have a favourite recipe - mexicale pie - that uses it for the polenta dumplings - and I also use it for cornbread and lining the pan for pizza. One of my favourite ways to eat polenta is to make a soft porridge of it and bake it with a simple tomato sauce on top. Wonder how it would go with cauli in the polenta porridge.

      It is odd to see the phones of our childhood becoming all bu obsolete - and goodness knows how long the idea of landlines will remain current. In my last place I had a phone a bit like this old style one that was attached to the wall and it was great when the power went that I could still use the phone which is a problem with the cord free phones!

  4. I love polenta chips, so I am sure these would be very tasty. And the cauliflower bites sound like the perfect snack.

    1. Thanks Cakelaw - if you love polenta chips I am sure you would love these - and I confess I ate a few of the cauliflower bites as a snack after dinnertime was over

  5. I love the sound of the polenta fingers. I can just imagine leftovers in some pitta with houmous, but like falafel. Must try cooking in the microwave as I always tend to get splattered by bubbling hot polenta when I try and make in on the stove. This way sounds much safer!

    1. Thanks Katie - I love your ideas for leftover polenta fingers. Highly recommend doing the polenta in the microwave - I never had much joy with doing it on the stovetop but it works so well for me this way

  6. I had spiced cauliflower at a Lebanese restaurant lately...lightly fried. YUM! You're right, cauliflower sure has come a long way.

    1. Thanks Mel - when you come across a good cauliflower dish on a menu in a restaurant, you know just how far cauli has come from the humble cauliflower cheese that I grew up with

  7. Love the look of those polenta fingers - they sound great! I'd never have thought of roasting cauli with a nice crunchy crust - that sounds great too.

    1. Thanks Caroline - I've also done cauliflower with a more traditional flour-milk-breadcrumbes crust and that was excellent too

  8. That dinner looks like veggie heaven. I am going to make those polenta fingers this week. I didn't even think to modify polenta! I wish we had amazing markets like that in Sydney. Ah well, we are a bit behind here!

    1. Thanks Cass - I have also made polenta combined with quinoa which makes excellent polenta fingers. Don't know much about Sydney markets but there are just so many good markets about melbourne that it is overwhelming

  9. I've never had much luck with polenta at home and eating out. We just haven't been wowed by it but having said that your polenta chips certainly appear to have the wow factor about them!

    1. Thanks Mel - I love polenta though I sometimes find that it can be a tad coarse and dry. One of my favourite ways to eat it is as a soft porridge baked with tomato sauce on top. I find it lots of fun to bake with as there are so many ways to try. Maybe mixing with vegies or quinoa would help you get into it.

  10. I am intrigued by your polenta fingers, they look really good. I've often added cheese and herbs, but not vegetables before. In fact it's been a long time since I made polenta fingers. I think I normally bake them in the oven. I do remember they go very well with tomato sauce though :)

  11. Wow! What creative and healthy ideas! These recipes would be a great addition to 5-Ingredient Mondays (, if you're interested :)


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