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Thursday, 27 January 2011


So here goes…a foray into cross-cultural cooking, gilding the lily and mediocrity.
Time: about 30 minutes. Served 3. Easiness: 2.5/5 (5 being the most difficult). Tastiness: 2.5/5. Make it again? In variations.

  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed (I used 2)
  • 115g/ 1 ½ cups brown mushrooms, sliced (I used about a bowlful, don’t wash them, just wipe them clean with a bit of paper towel, they just soak up the water)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (I forgot this, but I wouldn’t bother)
  • 115g mozzarella, crumbled (I love the fresh mozzarella that comes in a big ball, Niki Sengit The Flavour Thesaurus writes about eating the entire thing ‘not for gluttony’s sake, but simply for the pleasure of taking the whole thing in your hand and biting into it like a juicy apple.’  However for this recipe you need the slightly harder, rectangular pizza sort, which might be labelled ‘mozzarella cucina’. I didn’t weigh it – who can be bothered? Just sliced and plonked on the pizza as needed)
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts (according to the book these are optional, which is good as pine nuts are crazy expensive at the moment, also I don’t think they are that necessary)
For the pizza base
  • 50g plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 115g polenta (quick cook)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 150 ml milk
  • 25g freshly grated parmesan (I left this out because it is so hard to find vegetarian parmesan, and the kosher stuff is dandruff)
  • ½ tsp dried chili flakes (the only dried chilies I have are the teeny, lethal, Birds Eyes, and the massive tasteless and a bit of a waste of money really ones – so I used chili powder instead)
  • I tbsp olive oil
  1. To make the topping, heat half of the oil in a heavy-based frying pan, add onion and fry on quite a low flame for as long as you can possibly bear it.  The book said 10 minutes, but they don’t get to that perfect jammy state until like (yeah, I say like) 30 minutes. I got bored after about 15 and turned the heat up. The trick is to not stir them as often as you might think. If you have idle hands, like me, put a dvd on or read a book or something. Remove the onion from the pan and set aside.
  2. It seems unnecessary at first but if you do make this then do fry the onions and mushrooms separately – it keeps the flavours much more defined at the end.  Fry the garlic in the fan for a minute or so, and then add the mushrooms and oregano if using.  Cook for about 5 minutes until the mushrooms are tender, turn the heat up so that the mushrooms fry before turning all soggy. Big thanks to DY for looking after the mushrooms.
  3. To make the base, add the dry ingredients to a large bowl and make a well in the centre.  Add the egg to the middle, and gradually add the milk, mixing with a fork to create a thick batter.
  4. Preheat the grill to high. Heat the oil in a large heavy frying pan until very hot.  Add the batter to the pan.  It cooks rather like a big pancake. Use a non-stick pan and you can sneak peeks at the underside to see it set.  Little bubbles will pop up all over the surface, and it will smell amazing.  After about 3 minutes, its ready to flip over – slide it onto a large plate (I used an upside-down oven tray) and turn back into the pan. If you are nervous just do it really quickly, like pulling off a plaster and it’ll be fine, promise. It’ll only need a few minutes more, and then its done! It should look golden and feel a bit spongy.
  5. If your frying pan cannot go under the grill turn the polenta onto an oven tray (yes I used mine upside down – because of the ridges, not because I’m weird or anything).  Spoon the onions over the base, followed by the mushrooms, and then the cheese.  Grill for about 6 minutes until the cheese has melted.  At this point you could add the pine nuts and put under the grill for another minute or two, but I didn’t bother.

So that’s it! For me the most difficult part of the whole bit was having the patience to wait for the onions to cook, and using a grill with no numbers on.  it was served with the most unpretentious spinach salad –big handfuls, grabbed greedily straight from the bag (Nigella Lawson style physical imagery and alliteration).

It tasted ok, nothing particularly amazing.  My main problem with this recipe was that it wasn’t polenta pan-pizza, it was cornbread.  And it was tasty but completely clashed with the topping.  The bread was rich and cakey, almost sweet.  To be honest I was really impressed with how easy it was, essentially it’s a bread that cooks in under 10 minutes from opening the bag of polenta, but I would stick to southern-American/south American style dishes with it.  To prove my point, there was a small slice left after all the washing up was done, and I pushed all the topping off it and ate it plain, sprinkled with chipotle Tabasco, and it was great.  It would make a fantastic carb-accompaniment to a chili con carne/quorn/TVP, or even a simple bean and tomato stew with a smokey/ sweet/ spicey flavour.  If you want to do an Italian style polenta, then simply cook it with water, butter and parmesan in a saucepan to the consistency of mashed potatoes.

The best thing about this week’s food adventure was the fact that I bought the ingredients in Waitrose.  And for the ten minutes I spent in the supermarket, I felt like the classiest person ever, until I stepped back out into Brent Cross and remembered who I was: tired, poor, and with makeup smudged all over my eyes.

I’m really not sure what I will be cooking next week, possibly something using mackerel/trout, or maybe something completely different – any requests?

Base with the onions

Finished result

(from - 7.01.11)

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