Tag Archives: Italy.

Polenta ‘pizza’ with cherry tomatoes and some sort of cheesy topping.

This is not, of course, pizza. But it is delicious.

Polenta featured large in my father’s home cuisine – northern Italy. But it didn’t feature in my mum’s – southern Italy. And because my mum was the cook when we were growing up, I feel I can safely say we never had polenta. I would hear about it, but I could not get my head around what it was. Sometimes it was a powder, then it was solid, then like mash.

When I got older I tried making polenta and it was a disaster. Since then things have improved and it features in my home cuisine and I always find it comforting.

This recipe is from Delicious magazine. I like that the making of the polenta doesn’t involve loads of butter and parmesan – sometimes you want that, but not all the time. Of course you can vary the topping to have what you want on it. Because my children aren’t so keen on dolcelatte I bought some brie with truffles in it as a treat.

Anyway this is just delicious. It easily fed four of us and I had the left overs for lunch the next day (heat up for a few minutes in a dry frying pan, if you can cover it to catch the steam) and it was wonderful.

2 courgettes, sliced thinly (I used a potato peeler)

200g or so of cherry tomatoes, halve them

Olive oil for drizzling

600ml of milk

400 ml of chicken stock, either your own or made from a cube

250g instant polenta

50g cheddar, grated (or use some other cheese it’s okay)

80ml of passata

80g of dolcelatte or brie, thinly sliced

a handful of basil leaves to scatter

Method

Heat the oven to 200C. Spread the courgettes and tomatoes over a large baking tin, drizzle with the oil, season with salt and peper and roast for 10 minutes. This bit is important as you won’t be cooking the finished pizza for long enough to get the courgettes and tomatoes sufficiently roasted. When done set aside but leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, put the milk and stock in a large sauce pan and bring to the boil. Put the polenta in a jug and when the liquid boils, pour the polenta in a stream and stir continuously with a wooden spoon or large whisk. You want the mixture to thicken and bubble on the surface, like larva. Now turn down the heat and stir in the cheddar and season well.

Pour the polenta mixture onto a baking sheet (I find some baking parchment helps but is not essential), spread out thinly to a circular or rectangular shape. Spread the passata over – it will be very thin. Top with the roasted courgettes/tomatoes and the thin slices of cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Scatter basil leaves atop.

You can serve this with a salad but I like it on its own, with one fork, and my feet up on the sofa.

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Watermelon and feta salad. The perfect lunch for a hot day.

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Eating watermelon makes me think immediately of southern Italy, where I spent so much of my childhood. It’s so evocative, it almost makes me want to weep.

Childhood life in Italy was so different to life in London. In London we lived in a two bedroomed flat in a mansion block in west London. Opportunities for roaming the streets were few and far between. In Italy, almost from the moment we stepped foot onto the dusty soil of my mother’s home village in provincia di Avellino, we were free. My mother had her mother, cousins, sisters etc to talk to, we had streets to explore and railings to climb and old houses to dare ourselves to enter. I spent most of my childhood summers wearing a pink and white towelling bikini, playing out with friends, until I was called in to lunch, or dinner, or ‘per la merenda’ (a mid afternoon snack). We frequently ate watermelon, spitting the black pips as far as we could, sitting in the shade of the porch, whilst the grown ups had their afternoon siesta.

This recipe is by Ottolenghi from his Plenty book. It doesn’t seem like much but it is plenty (ha ha). Ottolenghi says you should “eat this on the beach, or at least outdoors, on a hot day, with the sun’s rays unobstructed’. It’s a perfect summer lunch and basically, an assembly job.

You take some chilled watermelon which you’ve cut into wedges, some feta which you’ve cubed, some basil leaves which you’ve torn asunder and a small red onion which you’ve sliced thinly if you like (if not, leave it out). You put the melon and feta on a plate, sprinkle over the basil and onion if using and drizzle some olive oil over the top. That’s it. But don’t dismiss it because of its simplicity, it’s got lots going on.