Tag Archives: polenta

A comforting dish of meatballs and polenta

What am I doing, writing this on one of the hottest days of the year? But English weather is so variable that you may need this in a couple of days. You can, of course, eat this when it’s hot, and we do. But it is particularly comforting on a day when you need succour – be it due to weather or weariness. I can’t over play how delicious this is, and how easy if you make it in stages – which I do.

I have also been meaning to write this up for some years, ever since I saw the Chiappa sisters make this on TV. (I have since adapted it slightly.)

After reading about a brilliant piece about the nitrates in our meat, written by the excellent Bee Wilson I realised that I had become really lazy about making meatballs and burgers. Which is shocking given my heritage.

My mother has never ever bought shop bought burgers or meatballs. And although she now allows herself the luxury of buying ready-minced meat, she also – until fairly recently – used to mince all the meat herself. It was the only way she could be absolutely sure of the cut of the meat used for mince.

My mother is a goat farmer’s daughter and when I was growing up and went shopping with her, she would tell the butcher not only exactly how she liked her meat cut, but where off the animal she wanted it cut and he utterly bowed to her expertise – she not only did this in butcher shops but she also used to do it in Sainsbury’s. Sainsbury’s – back then – used to have a phone over the chilled meat counter and you could ring up and speak to the butcher in the back (oh for those days!). She would pick up the receiver and he would recognise her voice and he would say “coming out Mrs Barbieri” and he would come out and meet her where the back of the shop met the shop floor, where the big plastic curtains were – and she would say, in her heavily accented voice, exactly how he was to cut the meat for our dinner. I used to baulk slightly at the time it all took, but even then, I would be awed at her expertise and the way he listened to her. And this was a time when not everyone did listen, because speaking in accented English – some thought – marked you out as stupid.

You see how far I’ve come, blithely slinging ready made meatballs and burgers into my trolley. All be them from Waitrose and free range and organic etc.

So now I make my own, thanks in no small part to Bee’s piece, in bulk. And I freeze them in vacuum packs. And of a morning when no-one can decide what to eat that night, or be bothered to shop, it is with high levels of smugness that I can then pull them out of the freezer to defrost.

Shall we get on with the recipe?

You can make much of this in advance and bring it all together at time of eating. This is what I do. Note I make double of the sauce and meatballs and freeze for another time. As the recipe stands it makes enough for four modest eaters. You have to make the polenta at the time of eating.

The sauce

2 red peppers, de-seeded, chopped

4 ish tomatoes, of medium size, quartered

3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled (less or more if you hate/love it) – leave whole.

A few sprigs of thyme

Salt, pepper, olive oil

Heat oven to 180C. Put the two chopped peppers, the four quartered tomatoes and the 3-4 whole cloves of garlic in a bowl. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the top and about two tablespoons of olive oil and mix all together, then put on a baking tray and cook for about 20 minutes. I find this is massively variable as sometimes the veg puts out a lot of water, but you’re looking for the veg to be soft and a bit golden in parts.

When done, let cool slightly and then blend to a thick sauce in a blender. Don’t worry about the skin of the peppers, you don’t need to take it off. You can use immediately or keep it in the fridge for a couple of days (or freeze the whole lot). Heat up before using.

The meatballs (or, for another time, burgers)

This is a fantastic recipe, generally, for meatballs (polpette) or burgers and it’s the only one I now use. It makes a very well flavoured meatball/burger, but I do sometimes leave out the parmesan (or put less in) and the fennel seeds if I want something just really simple and plain. I would, however, urge you to make the proper version for this dish however as the polenta doesn’t have as much parmesan in it as some recipes.

I do have a bit of an important note which is – put all the ingredients in a food mixer and pulse together until smooth. Sharp eyed readers will know I do this with my meatloaf, because – if I know what’s in it – I do really prefer a very smooth ground burger/sausage/etc.

You’ll need:

250g of really good pork mince (organic, free range, farm assured)

250g of same quality beef

100g of grated parmesan (I buy mine in bulk, grate it and freeze it grated)

1 clove of garlic if you like it

100g of breadcrumbs

2 eggs, medium sized

a handful of chopped parsley

1 teaspoon of ground up fennel seeds

half a teaspoon of salt

a good grinding of black pepper

Oil to fry.

So I basically bung all the ingredients, bar the oil, into my Magimix and pulse away until it’s all smooth. But if you want, just mix in a bowl with a wooden spoon.

You then shape into meatballs/burgers and either cook immediately or freeze/fridge until needed. They keep in the fridge for as long as the sell-by date is on the meat. I make the meatballs into walnut size and the burgers I have a burger press for and they are, I guess, quarter pounder size.

What I do with the meatballs is fry them gently, but then finish them off in the sauce when I’m reheating it. This stops them having a super hard crust which I don’t like. But if you fry them super gently they should be okay. About ten minutes frying should do it for the meatballs. 12 minutes for burgers.

For the polenta

200g of fast cook polenta – for the love of God don’t use any other kind.

A knob of butter

800ml of cold water

2 handfuls of grated parmesan

a pinch of salt if you really want (but I find the parmesan salty enough)

Put the 800ml of cold water, the 200g of polenta and the butter into a large pan and bring to the boil. When it comes to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for another minute. You do need to be present and whisking, but don’t be intimidated as the whole process takes minutes. As it simmers for that last minute and finishes its thickening, stir in the parmesan and salt if you want. Then it’s ready!

To serve, dollop spoonfuls of the polenta onto a plate, top with the hot sauce and the cooked meatballs. I serve with broccoli.

If you have any polenta left over, and no chickens to serve it to, then you can persuade it into a flat tin (it will get harder to handle as it cools), put in the fridge, then cut into finger shapes and shallow fry to make polenta chips.

But I have never done this.

I made burgers from this and served it in brioche buns made from this recipe (obvs leae out the chocolate chips) and they were, hands down, the best burgers I have ever eaten.

 

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.

Rosemary, polenta and olive oil biscuits

IMG_2679These won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I loved them. They’re easy to make, almost impossible to get wrong (unless you chucked them on the floor or something) and unusual. Like rosemary shortbread but with the advantage of no butter at all. I gave these to my father waiting, waiting, for him to say “too rich, too much butter” (this is what he always says about all my baking). So i could pounce and say “aHA, no butter in these NONE NONE and by the way, that New Year’s Even when I said I wasn’t out in a club aged fourteen I WAS and I’ve sustained the lie over thirty years.

Ahem. Exorcising a few ghosts there. I think this would be lovely with some rich vanilla ice cream or maybe a very strong espresso.

The recipe is here, on the Easy Living site. I have to say, I was very much not impressed with Easy Living the magazine in recent times. It had gone all silly and light weight; but they really lost me when they described women who breastfeed (and, I suppose, go on about it?) as breastfeeding Nazis or the Breastapo (I can’t remember which, but you get the idea). This is such an offensive term and belies a real ignorance of history.

I complained, and some flippety gibbet replied, completely not understanding my point. That was it, it was over for me and Easy Living.

The magazine has since folded but exists on line and its recipes are really good, and definitely worth checking out, even if the rest of the content, in my opinion, is as sustaining as a rice cake.

 

Polenta, that which binds us to the stove.

So. My dad is from the north of Italy. Parma. Yes where parmesan comes from and Parma ham, which obviously we just called prosciutto crudo (‘raw’ ham, as opposed to cooked ham: ‘prosciuto cotto’). And polenta is a big thing up there.

I’ve never made polenta. We always have some in the house, but I just sprinkle it onto trays before I make sourdough bread or pizzas. I love it though and far from being the peasant food of yore I see it as a real treat. Today, I saw this recipe from Angela Hartnett. Chard with polenta and blue cheese.

Looked nice. Looked easy. Looked warming.

“Cook the polenta according to packet instructions,” says Harnett, after you’ve added the milk and butter she recommends “the coarser type takes longer – about 20 minutes compared to five – requires more attention and stirring, but in my opinion is far better.”

Waitrose sells a polenta that is £5 for a bag. But hey, I thought, it’s the main component of the meal, I’ll get it. Bound to be nicer. Organic. Nice bag, from Italy.

What could possibly go wrong?

Lots. I’m not going to tear apart a recipe written by a Michelin starred chef, because I haven’t made it and if you make it with the readily available polenta it’s probably delicious and entirely do-able. I’ll never know. What I can tell you is that the polenta I bought – the lovely old fashioned kind – requires 90 minutes NINETYFUCKINGMINUTES of cooking. And it sucks up the liquid Hartnett tells you to put in within five seconds.

I rang my mum. This couldn’t possibly be true. She talked me through how you cooked polenta. You boil the water until it’s really angry boiling, put some oil in, then you sprinkle in the polenta and stir. If you get lumps in it at this stage, they never come out. Then she regaled me with tales of how in the old days, you had to cook it for two hours! And stir it continuously because otherwise it lumped up and if it lumped up at, say, the last moment, it was as if those preceding 119 minutes of stirring had never happened. She said this with a laugh as if she were telling me about how people used to send telegrams and could now just pick up a phone.

“I bought polenta that takes 90 minutes to cook” I told her.

“Whya didn’ta youa buy the quicka cooka polenta Annalisa?” she said, incredulous, quite rightly thinking what was the POINT of progress if her daughter had just spent so much money to go back in time, and not in a good way. Not to see Jesus and find out if he was, as I have always suspected, married. Or shoot any number of dictators or find out what happened to Lord Lucan. But to root myself to the spot for an hour and a half, stirring, have I mentioned, continuously.

I had no answer. I had created my own ball and chain.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am no slackard in the kitchen, but this was insanity. The fury of generations of Italian women before me welled up. (No wonder women didn’t have bingo wings back then. Stirring polenta for ninety minutes is a serious work out.)

My mum gave me this advice: “Just stirra it for as longa as you can stand it, then put itta in a tray, leave it and cooka it in the oven or slicea itta up and fry it.”

And this is what I’ve done. I’ve rebelled.

Be warned people, if you buy this polenta be prepared to spend 90 minutes chained to the hob. If you hate someone, buy it as a present for them.