Saturday, September 30, 2023

Savory Polenta Squares with Pasta Sauce and Balsamic Mushrooms

 It must be the shorter days, but I'm starting to think about meals that are heartier. A few days ago I made my favorite Pasta Sauce, which uses fresh zucchini as a major ingredient. The recipe, found HERE, makes a lot, so I still had a fair amount to use, but I didn't want to combine it with pasta.

I remembered a dish that I really enjoyed that I had posted a while ago here on the blog. You can find it HERE. It consists of cooked polenta, enriched with a bit of butter and some Parmesan, poured into a buttered 8-inch square baking pan, with a ribbon of shredded mozzarella cheese and some fresh basil leaves sandwiched in the middle. 

top photo: half of polenta goes into the lined pan, then basil leaves are laid down
lower photos: after the basil, an even layer of shredded mozzarella cheese is added
After that the balance of the polenta is added and the layer smoothed to even it, and then the pan is refrigerated for at least 45 minutes.

You chill this 'sandwich' until it's firm, cut it into squares, then pan-fry it to warm the polenta up and crisp it, plus melt the cheese. Once plated, you spoon some of that lovely pasta sauce over the polenta square. Just like that, it's an amazing meal, but to make it even more special, I added some Balsamic Mushrooms. Any of these recipes are wonderful, but combined, it was a feast!

Balsamic Mushrooms
serves 2-4, but can be doubled 

Approximately 16 medium mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (I used brown criminis)
2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I used the Costco Kirkland brand)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Clean and quarter the mushrooms. Remove any stems that seem too old to eat. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, dried thyme, dried rosemary. Stir and continue to stir for 1 minute while the garlic not burn. Add the quartered mushrooms and stir to coat with the herbed oil. Cover, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 3 minutes. Uncover the pan, return the heat to original setting, add the balsamic vinegar and stir to coat the mushrooms with the sauce, stirring for at least a minute. Garnish with the parsley and serve at once.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes

When I was growing up back in Virginia, summer was tomato season, usually starting around July. Here in Northern California tomatoes are usually ready for harvest starting in August. Everything is about two weeks late this year, so it's only recently that we really started to get constant ripe ones.

Some years I've grown up to twelve different varieties of tomatoes, but my favorite is the Black Krim, a tomato that is sort of brown when ripe. When you cut into it there are parts that look chartreuse and parts that are bright pink, with the rest the dark red-brown color. The flavor is pure tomato...intense, with both tang and sweetness. The largest ones are a little smaller than a tennis ball and the smallest a bit bigger than a golf ball. This year I grew two from seed. Last year I bought a seedling, but I think the ones I grow from seed do better.

Sweetie and I mostly enjoy them as a side dish/salad, sliced, then anointed with salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of fresh basil, like in the photo above. I also really like them as part of a sandwich, my two favorites being grilled tomato and cheddar cheese and the classic bacon-lettuce-tomato on toasted sourdough with good a mayo.

This week I baked a new recipe to me, a ham and tomato pie (but forgot to take a photo!). The recipe includes sautéed red onions and zucchini pieces, the sliced tomatoes, ham, cheddar cheese and a milk and egg custard, all baked in a pie shell. Not only does it taste amazing, but it smells heavenly, especially when it is almost fully baked. My only complaint was that it did weep a bit after cooling. I think next time I'll bake it at a high temperature just long enough to firm up the crust, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F for the last 15-20 minutes so that the custard has a chance to firm up without too much heat.

I made the pie long enough ago that I've had to look up the recipe I use. Here's the recipe.

It's a good one.

Ham and Tomato Pie

1 pie crust (I use Pillsbury ReadyCrust) in a shallow pie pan, edges turned under and crimped, unbaked
1 (8-oz.) package diced cooked ham
1/2 yellow onion
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
2-3 medium fresh tomatoes, sliced thinly and drained on paper towels
2 large eggs
2/3 cup half and half (I used Silk creamer)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, cook the ham and onions until ham has browned and liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Brush the bottom of the pie shell evenly with the Dijon mustard. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Spoon the ham mixture over the cheese. Top with an even layer of tomatoes.

In a medium bowl whisk the egg then add the half and half, basil and pepper. Pour over the top of the tomatoes in the pie. Finish with the second half of the shredded Cheddar cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake an addition 20-30 minutes (or more) until the filling bounces back slightly when you push with an index finger. The crust and places on top of the pie should be browned.

Cool 15 minutes on a rack. Serve warm.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

As Local As It Gets

Over the Labor Day Weekend Sweetie and I visited our daughter, her fiancee, and his son in Redmond, WA. We had never been to their new rental and discovered that they have a nice big backyard with mature fruit trees. There is also a water feature with waterfall that Aaron has been working on. It was a muddy, overgrown mess but he re-lined it and with the help of his son they hauled rock and set up a set of pumps and fountains. Our last day there a new, more powerful pump arrived so the waterfall part worked! It really is beautiful and well designed and adds so much to the outdoor experience.

One of the fruit trees in the backyard is a Granny Smith. Sweetie and I decided to prepare the apples and make an apple galette for dessert. The apples had quite a few blemishes and signs of worms, but our own apples do, too, so we knew what to do. It happens if you don't spray the apples.

We also discovered that there was a small Asian pear tree. Sweetie loves Asian pears! Next year we will go back when cherries are in season since there is also a large cherry tree. Yay for local fruit!

Want to make your own? You can use your own apples or get some Granny Smiths from the market or farmers market. Then use the recipe found HERE, without the bourbon and add a teaspoon lemon zest.