Friday, October 29, 2010

Crispy Polenta Triangles and Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque

Polenta has a polarizing effect on people.  I can immediately think of a college friend who would eat it right out of the tube, and another friend who is likely gagging at the title of this post.  I prefer to use ground polenta (versus its tubed sibling).  And in this recipe, it's essential.  You can find it in most grocery stores near the speciality flours and corn meals.  Here's what my package looks like:

The polenta crisps can be served as an appetizer, in concert with stews, or, as I've done here, alongside soup.

Just as their name suggests, their edges are crispy yet their center is soft.  The cracked pepper lingers in your mouth, providing much-needed warmth on these brisk fall days.

The roasted butternut squash bisque and I go way back.  It was one of the first "from scratch" soups I ever attempted. 

When Chris and I first married, I was a terrible cook.  We received several large cookbooks as wedding gifts.  Our home was tiny, and Chris, ever practical and organized, wondered aloud why I needed so many cookbooks on our crammed-full bookshelf when I rarely ventured beyond meatloaf. 

But we kept them.

And am I ever glad we did.

Other cookbook addicts aficionados will know what I mean when I say this:  I love them.  Each and every one.  They are my friends. 

Glancing across the kitchen at them right now, I can tell you that The Silver Palate Cookbook contains my favorite winter chicken recipe, Chicken Marbella, on page 86, as well as the most delicious pecan bars ever on page 256.   I would run in a panic to the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook when we would entertain friends for dinner.  Though I loved to host, I was afraid to cook for people outside of my immediately family.  But I knew Ina would come through for me, helping me make the Perfect Roast Chicken (page 130), Indonesian Ginger Chicken (page 125), or my go-to Chocolate Buttercream Cake (page 194). 
What I'm saying is:  don't be afraid to attempt this soup and these crisps from scratch. 

They. Are. So. Worth. It. 

Crispy Polenta Triangles

2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup ground polenta (stone-ground or quick-cooking)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons for greasing
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence (or a mix of dried rosemary, basil, oregano, and thyme)
1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped (optional)
1 cup freshly grated Beaufort (substitute Gruyere, Comte, or even Parmesan)

1.  Heat the milk and 2 cups of water in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add the salt and pepper.  Just before the liquids start to simmer, sprinkle the polenta into the pot slowly while stirring with a whisk.  Turn the heat to low and keep whisking the mixture, without letting it boil, until it thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan.  This will take about 5 minutes with the quick cooking, 30 minutes if you use stone ground -- in the latter case, after the first 5 minutes, you don't need to whisk it continuously, just regularly, to keep it from burning.  (Be careful:  as the polenta cooks, the mixture will form burping bubbles that could erupt on your hands.)

2.  Remove from heat, stir in the oil, herbs de Provence, walnuts, and half of the cheese (cover the other half and reserve in the fridge for the topping).  Grease a large rectangular baking sheet with 1 teaspoon oil and pour in the polenta mixture, spreading it with a spatula.  Press plastic wrap directly on the polenta, and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.

3.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and grease it with 1 teaspoon oil.  Use a sharp knife to cut the polenta into squares about 2 by 2 inches (wipe the blade of the knife when it gets too coated with polenta), and cut each square diagonally to form triangles.  Use a spatula -- preferably a thin and narrow one -- to transfer the triangles onto the baking sheet, leaving just a little space between them.  Sprinkle with the reserved cheese -- don't worry if some of the cheese lands on the foil.

4.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the sides of the triangles get lightly crispy.  Switch to broiler setting and broil for 5 minutes, until golden, keeping an eye on them.  Let cool for a minute, and use the spatula to loosen and lift triangles from the foil.  Serve immediately, or at room temperature.

Variations:  You can omit the walnuts, or substitute Parmesan and pine nuts and/or diced sun-dried tomatoes, for the Beaufort and walnuts.


Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque
2-3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
6 large carrots, sliced into 1/2-inch wide "coins"
1 medium onion, cut into small wedges (about 1-inch wide)
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup canola oil (or grapeseed oil)
2 quarts chicken stock
1 pint whipping cream (you can substitute plain yogurt if you need to make it healthier)
Freshly ground pepper to taste (white pepper is fun to use here)
Sour cream for garnish (optional)

1)  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2)  Peel the squash and cut into 1-inch chunks.
     (Butternut squash are squirrely little things to peel.  Here's a video if you want a quick how-to.)
3)  In a large bowl, toss the squash, carrots, and onions with the canola oil.  Add the nutmeg and salt.  Toss well to coat.

4)  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread the squash mixture on the baking sheet.

5)  Roast until vegetables are tender and golden brown, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The squash should be firm, not mushy. 

6)  Puree the vegetables in batches in a food processor fitted with a steel blade (a blender will work, too---just work in smaller batches).  Add the chicken stock as you puree the squash mixture until it is velvety smooth. 

7)  In a large pot, bring the pureed vegetables to a simmer.  (You can add more chicken stock if you'd like to thin it out further). 

8)  Add the whipping cream (or yogurt).  Cook on low heat for about 5 more minutes.  Do not let it boil.

9)  Season with the pepper. 

10)  Serve immediately with a dollop of sour cream as a garnish.


Heather-Gathering Spriggs said...

Ok. Im completely in awe of you dear! I don't know how you do it!! I was at the grocery store for an hour looking for the Polenta meal then came home with hungry bear fury and threw some beans and junk in a pot to make some veg. chili then got out this recipe to whip up some Polenta triangles and nearly cried when I read that they need to sit overnight. OMG the hungry bear in me went wild!!! It was a crazy case of needing to be caged. groceries rolling on the floor. frozen veggies spilling out.
and i was thinking of you. how do you go to the store with two young boys ... meal planning and thoughtful consideration to your food and family!
Can I request a post for those of use who are obviously less organized on how to cook meals regularly, meal plan, grocery shop?? I feel so lost when Im out at the store all alone. I actually looked this post up while in the aisles (on the new iphone) having a crisis of belief in my cooking abilities.
Maybe its PmS but I don't know how you do it. I have been making every meal for us this week since Saturday and going crazy with dishes and running out of ideas. Not to mention the mount st. helens of recycling rolling out of the garage and down the driveway. oh and the laundry that needs to be folded , the emails that need to be sent, samples that need to be made, etc...
Anyway, thiking of you with grand admiration. I don't know how you do it!! and now a blog with beautiful images of your lovely creations, hilarious descriptions of your life as a mother and woman. Im in awe!!

Ginny said...

Oh Heather. I'm so sorry, hun! I should have said upfront in the polenta recipe that it needs to sit in the fridge for a while for the flavors to meet and fall in love.

I love your description of your recycle bin. I should take a pic of mine and email it to you. Especially when I get back from a big grocery store trip!

I'm struggling right now with putting out a real image of who I am on the blog. (Oh wait! I don't know who I really am yet, silly me.) But I am NOT, NOT, NOT an expert! My cooking abilities are actually quite crude. I am just really enjoy the process, and when I make something that is pretty or tastes good or both, I'm so happy. It completes some part inside of me. But it isn't easy. The ricotta cheese post took me 6 hours start to finish (including breaks to take care of the boys and do my work for BDC), but setting up the photos, writing, uploading the pics, and actually cooking takes FOREVER.

The planning/cooking/grocery shopping post is a great idea. I will work on that, but it will be fronted with 10,000 caveats that I am NOT an expert.

Just a girl. Who likes to cook.