Polenta . part iii . “pizza gialla” revisited

Six years have passed since I first wrote a blog about polenta. The time spent writing the original looks  like the pages of a faded diary. The first version of this recipe came about by chance. A friend of mine was intent upon avoiding wheat, but simply could not stop dreaming of pizza.  The thought of a golden, crispy polenta crust, burnt perfectly around the edges by the flames of an open fireplace came immediately to mind.  This is how the idea and the name for “pizza gialla” was born.

It took a while to figure out how to emulate a pizza-like crust with polenta. That being said, the deliciousness of grilled polenta comes very close to the kind of comfort found in the pizza experience. Even though polenta stays soft in the middle, and cannot imitate the chewiness a slow-rise wheat dough can, the finished result is a perfect stand-in to the original.

As part of the polenta project I am engaging in at the moment, I tested my original recipe. A simplified version of the pizza gialla recipe I published in 2014, can be found below.

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Fig and pine nut zaleti : Veneto-inspired biscotti

In the last few years, I find myself coming back more and more to my friend Luisa’s vast kitchen and gardening wisdom . Our exchanges on family memories fixed in the Veneto countryside, has led to a renewed fascination for a simple ingredient, namely cornmeal. When not consulting my mother’s handwritten recipe notes on the subject of food, I turn the pages of cookbook favorites for culinary inspiration. By the way, I readily admit I adore books, old, new and out of print. . . In the name of research, it makes for the perfect excuse to collect printed wisdom on food and other essentials in life. . .

The list of some of my favorite books on Italian cooking,  particularly of the Veneto, are listed below in my notes. Like old diaries, my books are often dog-eared and blemished by the signs of time; others are filled with pencil-written notes, recording various changes or observations about the original cooking instructions.

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Polenta . part ii . sweet almond crostata

. Polenta stories and a blog collaboration  .

. Introducing sweet polenta ideas from Biagio d’Angelo . 

In his words, translated from Italian. . .

” It all started with the mixed blessing known as Instagram. Let me explain what I mean! Instagram is a place where one can make great friends, especially because there is a vast opportunity to connect around mutual interests, like culinary subjects.

This is how I met Terri. She hasa Finnish last name, and I actually thought she spoke it. While exchanging our appreciation for a classic among cakes on Instagram, I discovered that Terri actually speaks Italian fluently. Italy is where her heart lives, she told me. In one of our first message exchanges, she explained she was reading cookbooks on the culinary tradition of the Veneto. Sometime in late autumn, I suggested we create a “club” to collaborate on our mutual interest in polenta. We gave our project the title “Polenta is the New Yellow”, which made us both laugh.

What is extraordinary is that our collaboration is completely virtual (And yes, that is definitely very typical of the global pandemic years.) I live in Brazil and Terri lives in the Netherlands. We consulted each other, via voice messages, each discussing and choosing our own recipes to write about. And this is what the results of our plan looks like:

During the next few weeks, I will prepare and publish four savory dishes with polenta as its main ingredient. I will concentrate on sweet recipes (if you know me, you know that is the obvious choice haha). We will translate each other’s recipes in Italian and English respectively, and post them on Instagram as well as on our individual blogs. Call it a project in friendship.

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Polenta . part i . minestra de farina zala

With winter in full swing, now is the perfect time to bring up the subject of polenta. It is an ingredient that sparks highly conflicting opinions. Many adore it, while others are convinced it is tasteless. That being said, I grew up in the Veneto. In this part of the world, polenta and risotto are not only food staples, they are food icons.

So to those who say polenta is inedible, I can only promise that they must try a bowl made by someone who understands how to make it. To those who love it, I feel a recognizable connection. All opinions aside, as with many foods it is a question of texture. Think of polenta as a soft, silky mash that replaces the potato for example; imagine it as the comforting neutral base to stews and thick, chunky minestrone style soups. I am convinced that like me, you will jump at the chance to have some.

Read the nostalgic recipe below, to learn how to make a creamy, pale yellow soup, known as minestra di farina zala, in Vicentino dialect. I believe it is the perfect starting point in the appreciation of simplicity.

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Citrus-Infused Cream Tart

This is a recipe for baked cream infused with citrus, wrapped in a crumbly pastry crust. It is the kind of tart that reminds me of wandering through Paris without a purpose. Envision narrow streets filled with cafés spilling out onto the sidewalk . . . . . . bookstore window-shopping and artfully arranged pastry shops worthy of a starring role in a romantic movie . . . . . . and you are at the exact place that inspired this dessert.

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Orange peel paradise

Every cook has at least one obsession. A  clear preference for a certain preparation method, distinct focus upon specific kitchen equipment, or the fascination for a certain sort of ingredient are all telltale signs of what I like to call a cook’s character.

A unique personality manifests itself not only in what an individual cooks, but also in how they go about doing so.  Food memories, though different for each of us, are inevitably related to people we love, or moments in time of special significance. Our human experience comes together through the power of the senses.

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Pumpkin Spice Cake for Breakfast

This is a decidedly uncomplicated cake. More like a bread than a dessert, it fits in the category of simple cakes made with vegetables like carrot and zucchini bread.

The title of this recipe reveals its story . . . it goes well with the kind of breakfast that promises a day-long stay in your pajamas. It is that comforting.

Like day-old bread,  it makes for the perfect piece of toast.

Make this pumpkin spiced cake a day before you want to cut a thick, nonchalant slice from the baking tin, so you can get back to the woolen blanket and exaggeratedly long book you have been saving for a perfectly quiet day at home.

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Zuppa !

Zuppa is the Italian name for soup made with a mixture of vegetables, cooked in broth. The word zuppa can also describe any general mix-up of things outside the soup bowl or the kitchen for that matter . . . such as a chaotic meeting or a confusing conversation for example . . .  It is derived from the word inzuppare which literally translates as to drench or to soak. 

Now back to the story of soup. The wonderful thing about zuppa is that its composition is a free-for-all for individualists. A limitless possibility of ingredient combinations are open to interpretation, depending on the cook’s mood and the availability that comes with the season. Continue reading

Roasted tomato and plum tart

This tart was born by coincidence.  In the midst of the steamy (some say unbearable) heat of August, plums and tomatoes compete for attention. When I go to the farmers market I am absolutely inspired.  I choose color first, shape and texture later . . . and so as you might imagine, I end up with brown paper bags bursting at the seams with ripe fruit and vegetables every time I go!

Once in my kitchen, I arrange my edible treasures in bowls and turn my refrigerator into a topsy-turvy puzzle of ingredients. (Honestly, opening my refrigerator carelessly can involve multiple sorts of vegetables rolling out on to the floor, but that’s another story. . . )

As luck would have it, I decided to roast plums and tomatoes together one day,  just to create some space on my shelves. This is when the tart happened. It was a question of chance meeting destiny I think . . .

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Savory oregano pastry

This pastry has earned a prominent place in my kitchen repertoire because it is quicker to make than pizza dough . . . which by the way is a source of continuous experimentation at my house . . .

It forms the base to many a colorful vegetable torta, and even shapes the crust for my interpretation of the famous chard filled erbazzone. It is also the type of pastry I use to make savory crackers, flavored with anything from fresh rosemary and slivers of garlic, to grated Parmesan and coarse black pepper.

To make this pretty pastry only two things are needed:  good flour and butter, preferably organic and produced close to home

Mixing the cold butter through the flour with a gentle hand helps the end result to be perfectly crumbly and delicious.

Oh . . . did I say you can replace the butter with extra virgin olive oil ? See my notes for the explanation how to replace butter with olive oil.

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