cookies · Italian recipe · no-dough

Polenta, Sempre Polenta and Broccoli

polenta (farina gialla)

The time is running fast, it’s already a month since we left Strasbourg and headed on to the Northern Italy, the land of polenta. And this is just what I’m going to talk about today. Polenta, polenta, sempre polenta reportedly used to say the starving Italians who fled from their poor country to the USA where they opened all those Italian restaurants and made the Italian cuisine (especially pizza!) so popular and wide-spread. After the arrival of corn in Europe, polenta was the basic food of the Northern Italians – and it still is, we’ve tried it at the house of my friend – the home-made (and mamma-made! 🙂 polenta from wholemeal corn. And it’s not the only thing you’ll eat there in the North now of course, and for sure you’ll get other dishes over the same meal.

We bought a kilo of polenta flour (just look at this wonderful sunny grain!) and I’ve been long meaning to make some polenta and those biscuits which we ate at Caterina’s. This post will tell you about both, and about a soup I’ve recently made (not an Italian recipe, though, but a very hearty soup indeed!). You will thus get a complete meal – a soup (traditionally served as the first course in Russia), a main dish (I’m vegetarian and don’t need any bloody addition 😉 ) and a dessert (Caterina, grazie, grazie anche alla tua mamma!).

Here is a quick master course on how to serve and cut polenta, performed by Caterina, which was then reproduced by me 😉

come si fa la polentacome si taglia la polenta

polenta e formaggio

{look at this cute rounded board, it has a cord already attached to it 😉 Oh and the cheese…}

Polenta needs some attention while cooking but you won’t have to mescolare (stir) it all the 30-40 minutes if you’re wise enough to use a whisk during the first minutes after you pour the flour into the boiling water in a stream (‘like rain’ as the package instructions tell you).

polenta and broccoli soup

So, first you plop the hot polenta on a wooden board, where it cools down and naturally achieves the state of a rubbery ‘cake’. The crusty polenta left on the bottom of the pot is never thrown away – it is eaten just like crackers. This crust inevitably develops especially if you’re trying to cook polenta (and the soup I will talk about later, seen on the let) and write the post on cooking it at the same time!

polenta inverted on a board

You see a thread attached to the cutting board? It’s used to cut the polenta, very easily, just like this:

cutting polenta with a cord

A spatula helps to lift the slices. As we’re here more accustomed to eating hot meals for lunch, I decided to fry the cooled polenta squares:

polenta squares ready for frying

with some vegetables (a more common combination will be with mushrooms but lots of variations exist). When fried, polenta acquires this very nice crust, while it remains soft inside. Here it is in its un-fried version with some Greek mustard:

unfried polenta

On its own, polenta is quite bland but if you eat it with cheese or even put some grated cheese at the end of the cooking process, mmmmm, it will be even better! And surely there are all those sauces you can season it with or meat, etc etc. There are other ways of making polenta, of course. I’ve recently found these two recipes with polenta on the web – Creamy Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Baked Polenta with Tomato and Basil. And there are other ways to use the polenta flour, it’s more coarse than the regular cornmeal for cornbread but less so as the corn groats we usually buy in Russia (to make the mamaliga, a typical Romanian dish also found in the Caucasus and that has made its way into Russia as a hot corn porridge, you’ll hardly find it served cold here). Do not confuse cornmeal with cornflour, which is starch 🙂

Here’s the recipe of polenta cookies with jam from Caterina’s Mother:

Biscotti meini or Corn Cookies – from the North of Italy (a similar recipe exists also in Piedmont, for example), will make soft or crunchy cookies depending on the grain of the corn meal and the time of cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 200g wheat flour – all-purpose
  • 150g cornmeal (polenta flour is better) – I made a mixture of fine cornmeal + polenta flour
  • 100g butter – shhh, I made my regular mix with apple puree!
  • 130g sugar – if you have a sweet jam which you will put on top, you might want to cut down the amount
  • baking powder – a teaspoon I guess, I also added ginger to give some flavour to the cookies
  • just a bit of salt
  • 2 eggs

Method:

Here I followed the following procedure: Beat the butter with sugar, add eggs one at a time, then add the already mixed flours+powder+salt. The only thing is to make sure to mix well the 2 types of flour together, warns Caterina. The batter is then either pipe out on a sheet in some fashion (as I saw in this recipe which I tried some time ago) or just dropped in tablespoons which I did as my Chinese pastry bag died, you cannot even call it a disposable bag as it didn’t survive its first job. I made an indentation with a wet finger in the middle of each cookie and placed some gooseberry jam, well, actually some gooseberries from the jam as it was too liquid. The original recipe would use the home-made orange jam (I have not tried the recipe yet). Here is what I used instead of oranges:

gooseberry confiture

It’s our Grandparents’ spécialité – a tiresome in its preparation but emerald in colour and almost transparent gooseberry varenye (confiture). It’s prepared with the leaves from the gooseberry bush and all the seeds are removed from the berries (this is what makes the process rather demanding). These are not the abundant apples and we have just a few jars of the gorgeous gooseberry varenye left, ah, my preciousssss 😉 And I used to hate these berries! :O But yet I still avoid the entire berries in any sort of varenye (fishing them out and graciously leaving them for others), don’t know why.

Bake your cookies in the preheated oven (180 ‘C) for about 15 minutes (depending on the size), I also moved the sheet to the upper position during the last minutes of baking. I wanted the jam to be less liquid and also to add some colour to the cookies. If you want them more crunchy (mine were quite soft), increase the baking time.

Biscotti meini

The original cookies we tried at Caterina’s home were more crunchy (because of the wholemeal polenta flour I guess) and less sugary, but also the orange jam (and probably some orange flavour added to the dough) made them different from my gooseberry version (though we liked the result). However, I think that the combination of orange and corn is a very successful one, I will try to remake these cookies once I venture out to make the orange jam.

***

“Cream” of Broccoli Soup

A bit on the South Italian cuisine now, the one of Napoli Before there was pizza (used to be eaten only by poor workers, very greasy and despised by the higher social classes) and even pasta (eaten by hand, actually), the Neapolitan people were eating … broccoli and other leafy things, for which they were called leaf-eaters! Well, that was way back when, in the 16-17th centuries BUT can you believe it, haha! (I’ve been reading this book on the history of the Italian cuisine, Delizia! by John Dickie, awfully translated into Russian featuring such pearls of the translator as ‘something with meat’ – apparently there was a French name of a dish and the poor translator forgot to look it up in the French dictionary. Ha, there’s worse – ‘urine’ instead of Turin! =).

We have (or better, had) a huge bag of broccoli in the freezer and I decided to make use of them in a soup. I rarely follow any recipes when making soups, I enjoy the process of throwing in ‘random’ stuff and getting a… result ; ) This time, however, I chose a particular recipe of a pureed soup with broccoli, definitely NOT an Italian recipe but it turned out to be a very good one:

‘Cream’ of Broccoli Soup adapted from www.thecookingphotographer.com will make a creamy vegetable soup without any cream, actually.

The hidden trick is that this soup contains neither milk nor cream but… rice. The rice is pureed along with the rest of the ingredients so you don’t even notice it. it also has quite a lot of onions but – again – the texture and the flavour of the soup is achieved exactly through this combination of the vegetables.

“Cream” of Broccoli Soup

{in several seconds this mixture will turn into…}

I pureed the soup in batches – my mini-blender takes just several ladlefuls at a time. That’s usually ok cause for such pureed soups I normally fish out all the larger vegetables to puree them and leave some so that the soup has something to chew on. This one was more difficult as it had the tiny rice grains but I somehow managed to fish it out too (a colander-like ladle would have been more handy though); this soup will leave nothing to chew on but it is anyway so creamy and substantial, with its hidden ingredient (rice, I mean).

“Cream” of Broccoli Soup

{…this thick rich green colour soup!}

As for the rest of the ingredients, I used parsley instead of thyme, made some vegetable stock myself and … and then I did the utter alcoholic horror – I had no dry white wine in the pantry to cook the onion so I… well, mixed up some Finnish cloudberry liqueur with water, oops =) As for the rest, I did not introduce much changes. Just make sure you season the soup well, it is hearty but needs some spicy side to be added to it. You can also adjust the proportion of the stock / pureed vegetables, thus making your soup either thicker or thinner. We enjoyed it in its thick version, although I didn’t use the exact amount of liquid indicated in the original recipe.

“Cream” of Broccoli Soup

The result: the soup was eaten s appetitom! (with appetite) but mostly with herbs – especially basil! – and sour cream 😉 It’s very nourishing and even my carnivorous father didn’t complain that there was again no meat in the soup.

There’s a sequel to the French post soon to come.

G.

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