Tag Archives: kale

Stuffed Layered Polenta from Herbivoracious

I had the pleasure of meeting a very talented Seattle chef and blogger, Michael Natkin, as he toured the United States promoting his new vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious by Harvard Common Press.
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The event was geared towards local bloggers and it felt like a mini reunion with over half the people in the room I would call dear friends.

Over glasses of lovely Barbera we chatted informally with Chef Michael before he started his cooking demonstration.

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Chef Michael’s book really appealed to me because despite of my great love of fruits and vegetables I feel that my execution of vegetarian cuisine is still in its infancy. I prepare a great variety of vegetable side dishes but the majority of my cooking is very meat-centric and I feel that my menu easily slips into a rut.

I have a few friends who are vegetarian and have very elevated palates. When we have get-togethers I always stress over what to make for them as my first thoughts generally run to bacon.

Chef Michael’s fresh and innovative dishes put together ingredients in a manner that made me think “Oooh, that’s terrific, now why didn’t I think of that?!!”

We were treated to three stunning dishes that night, and I have included the recipe of my favorite dish of the night for you to try: the stuffed and baked polenta.

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I made it a few weeks ago before I was allowed to stand and I must admit cooking while healing from surgery was quite the Herculean task. I needed to rest after each step but I did it. I wasn’t able to do the final bake but a dear pal took care of that for me. My friends who devoured it with me were very appreciative and the kids loved it too.

I made it again yesterday for friends who were dining with me at home and it turned out so good, I think I may have to make this part of my regular rotation.

I made my mother’s bechamel, which is simmered slowly with an onion studded with cloves, bay leaf, nutmeg, and knifepoint of cayenne pepper. The minced fresh tarragon was stirred in right before using.

For the mushroom and greens filling, I had bunches of dino kale, beet greens, and rainbow chard. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use all of the greens, including the stems, if they are chopped rather finely. You can also use up any greens that you might have in your refrigerator, including lettuces that might be too limp to use in a salad.

The assembly of the dish is a lot of fun. You spread the cooked polenta into a greased dish and then top it with the greens and the bechamel. I had to use my largest stockpot to make the 9 cups of polenta the recipe called for, and since I cannot stand at the stove for very long, I sat on the seat of my scooter and stirred. It worked out rather well and was less tiring.

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I also added a good handful of grated Parmesan, and the larger pieces of the soft fontina that I could not grate because the cheese is just too squishy. I let these cheeses melt into the polenta before I spread it into the pan.

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The mushroom and greens mixture is spread on top. A good tip is to let it cook down until it is fairly dry to prevent any vegetable juices from softening the lower layer of the polenta after baking.

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The bechamel is spread over the top of the greens. It is very important to be sure you spread the sauce into each corner.

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The remaining batch of polenta is spread onto the top of the filling and smoothed over and topped with cheese.

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When viewed from the side through the Pyrex casserole dish you can really see the beautiful layers of the creamy polenta, the savory greens and mushrooms, the creamy bechamel, the rich top layer of polenta and mixed cheeses on the top. It is slid into the oven to be baked until bubbling and golden brown and a little crispy on the edges.

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While this was baking it smelled so divine. We could barely stand it until the timer went off but we held on for a bit longer to let it cool for about 10 minutes until it firmed up a bit so that it could be sliced into perfect straight edge slabs to be slid onto our ready plates. The next day all the leftovers were reheated briefly in the microwave and devoured for lunch. We looked at the empty dish and felt quite sad. It was gone!

The full recipe is here.

I am really looking forward to making this again. I think that I may add a fine lardon of bacon to the vegetable mix for extra porky sinfulness.

Stuffed Full of Squash

I was not going to share this article with you because of what happened but then thought that perhaps I should.  Most food blogs only show you the most perfect,  “delicious and amazing” recipes coming out of xxx’s kitchen, complete with the perfect food porn photography and drool-inducing descriptions.

Life isn’t always that way though, I think a real person has successes and failures in the kitchen but we the audience never seem to ever hear about the flops or failures or the “meh” of it all.  So, in the spirit of keeping it real, here is my recent flop.  Well, sort of flop.

I have had a pumpkin from my CSA box from the Fall and it  became part of my Christmas decorations.

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I have decided that I would roast it stuffed full of tasty things, inspired by my friend Laura’s recipe from Hey What’s For Dinner Mom?.

Laura’s recipe is meatless and uses quinoa but I had some fancy pants sausages and was out of quinoa, so I checked in with my friends at the recipe swap. The recipe they suggested is by Dorie Greenspan and uses bread which is perfect because I have some artisan sourdough slab about to go stale so I adapted both recipes into my dinner.

Mis en place

Stuffed Pumpkin

1 sugar pie pumpkin, seeded
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1/2 loaf Della Trattoria Meyer lemon and rosemary bread, torn into smallish chunks
2 chicken and spinach sausages
2 Tbl pork fat
1 large leek
1/4 pound mushrooms
A bunch of dino kale
1/4 c white wine
1/3 c heavy cream (I used sour cream thinned with milk)
4 slices leftover bacon
1/2 grated Peccorino Romano
Sage leaves
1/3 bunch of parsley
6 cloves of Garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper

I cut out the stem end of the pumpkin using a sharp knife like you would to make a jack o’lantern, and then cut off the strings on the cap with the chef’s knife and set the lid aside.

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Now for evisceration.  I scooped out seeds and pulp with an ice cream scoop but you can use a sturdy metal spoon.  Save those seeds if you like roasted pumpkin seeds. I was not in the mood so into the compost bin they went.  Usually this step is gooey and messy, but my pumpkin wasn’t all that gooey inside.  I should have paid more attention to this fact, but onwards I went.

I put the hollowed pumpkin on a baking sheet lined with foil and seasoned the cavity with salt and pepper and olive oil.  I poured in the oil and then threw in the salt and pepper and smeared it all around with my hands; they are Nature’s best spatula!

Olive oil, salt & pepper the inside well

Then I started assembling the stuffing ingredients. I used my Wovo salad bowl but any large bowl will do; toss in the leftover bacon and the sausages chopped into small pieces.

Leftover chopped bacon

It is hard to believe I had leftover bacon but it happens!

Aidell's chicken spinach & feta sausage, chopped

I chopped up the parsley rather roughly and added that to the bowl too along with the smashed garlic cloves and the grated cheese and a few dried porcini.

Picnik collage

On the stove heat I heated up a large frying pan and melted the pork fat (or use olive oil or bacon fat or butter, it’s up to you).  The leek was halved lengthwise, then into cut into slices about an 1/8″ thick, put in a colander and washed them well.  I like washing the leeks after they are cut because it’s easier to get the mud out if they are dirty. Lately our leeks have been really dirty. Heh.

Picnik collage

With just some of the water shaken off, I tipped the leeks into the hot frying pan and added a few pinches of salt. A swift stir with the spatula then I grabbed a clean cutting mat and sliced up the mushrooms and add them to the leeks.  Lastly, I grabbed the sheaf of kale leaves and chopped off the stems into smallish pieces and added them to the frying pan.

They all cooked together until everything was very tender.  Meanwhile, I had a glass of wine and then attacked the kale leaves. Whack-whack-whack I went with my largest chef knife to chop them roughly.  Once the other veggies were tender, I added the kale and put on the lid for a minute or two until the kale has wilted a bit.  Wine in hand I tossed and sauted the kale and vegetables until the kale was completely tender.  I let the mixture cool a little bit.  So far everything looked and tasted great, good levels of salt, the veggies were all fork-ready.  My stomach growled.

Picnik collage
(L-R: kale stems, leeks, mushrooms sauteing; a rough chop; the kale will fill the pan up but it cooks down to nothing)

Meanwhile it was time for the heart of the stuffing, the bread. I purchased this loaf of bread on a Saturday it was now Tuesday so it was just this side of being stale, perfect for a stuffing.

You could just chop it but I like the rough texture of hand-torn bread so I sliced the bread, then took a seat and over the bowl I ripped up the bread into small pieces, about 1/2″.

Della Trattoria bread ready to be shredded

The stuffing was almost done, I just needed the cream and wine and a few herbs, salt and pepper. A quick toss with my hands I was ready to stuff my pumpkin. Since this stuffing does not have egg or raw meat I was able to taste a few pieces to make sure the seasoning was right on. I wanted it to be a little heavy on the salt to offset the pumpkin which is essentially bland and would be mixed into the filling.

The stuffing for my pumpkin. Yum.

I really packed it in and it all just barely fit!

Stuffed and ready for the oven #2

Don’t forget to put its hat on!

Don't forget to put its hat on!

Isn’t that beautiful?!  Into the oven it went, at 350 for 90 minutes. I checked it then and the pumpkin was still not fork-tender so I let it go for another 30 minutes. At last a fork just slid easily through the side of the pumpkin and it smelled so aromatic with the herbs and garlic I could barely contain myself.

Ready to serve!

I pulled out the stuffing first, and sneaked a bite. Hmmm. It was delicious but not all moist and steamy like I expected.

Finished stuffing

I scooped out the pumpkin and despite it being fork tender the flesh was rigid and oddly firm. I scraped all of it out into a bowl and tasted it – it was fine but dry and more starchy and did not have the squashy pumpkin texture it should have.  Hmmm, when did I get that pumpkin again?  I realized I couldn’t remember.

Pumpkin and stuffing

Huhmmm. I sat a bit and thought and thought. And then I remembered. This pumpkin was not from November, it was from October or perhaps earlier and in my overheated apartment it probably had completely dried out and converted its sugars into starches. Whoops!

I tried steaming the flesh a bit in a steamer on the stove but realized that it really needed to be used in a soup or something. This explained why the stuffing seemed so dry. The pumpkin, which normally would have exuded lots of juices while cooking, was essentially dessicated and therefore the stuffing had the consistency of being baked in a dish and did not get hydrated from its squashy container. If I had intended to bake the stuffing in a casserole I would have added a lot more liquid and covered it while baking to emulate the interior of poultry or other moist cavity.

Craptastic.

My dinner was completely salvageable though. I added about a cup of leftover chicken broth I had and another good slosh of wine to the stuffing and put it in a small casserole dish and covered it foil to bake for 30 minutes. Taking it out of the oven, I peeked under the foil and stood back as a cloud of steam erupted. I realized this was the stuffing I had expected. The mushrooms and garlic were soft and tender, the bread had that pleasant squish of being amalgamated with wine and cream and broth and the generous flecks of greens and chunks of bacon and sausage were like firm nuggets within each bite. It was delicious despite the absence of the pumpkin!

I saved the pumpkin for my next batch of soup. Lesson learned. I hope you try stuffing a pumpkin or other squash but please do make sure it is not Paleolithic in age!!

Fall Produce Explosion

My CSA delivery today was an explosion of all the bounty that is Fall…

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  • A Sugar Pie pumpkin
  • Curly kale
  • Ruby red beets with greens
  • Nantes carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Green leaf lettuce
  • Garnet sweet potatoes
  • Yellow onions
  • Fennel
  • Red radishes

My brain is swirling with ideas for this produce. There is so much of it that I have to take it home in two batches!

For the Sugar Pie pumpkin, it will grace the counter in my day job’s reception area until after Halloween next to the cauldron of Sees Candy halloween treats. We do Halloween right at the office!

But after Halloween I think I will make my favorite chicken pumpkin soup with Marsala. The broccoli is dinner tonight with cauliflower left over from last week; a quick stir-fry with some hosin sauce should do the trick.

The kale and beet greens sauteed together with garlic and ginger will make a nice side dish to a roast chicken. The carcass of the chicken and the leftover meat will become the soup.

I am also in the mood for a Thai curry so perhaps some of the pumpkin will be used for that, thinly sliced with the rind on.  Many salads will be created given the size of this head of lettuce and I have some lovely Italian tuna packed in olive oil and the fennel for one night.  Carrots will  be put into everything.  There are never enough carrots.

But now I’m running out of ideas…

What on earth am I going to do with two large bunches of radishes?   Help me please!

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