Brand new favorite winter comfort food (Italian style)

I love these things beyond reason.

Tonight was HMOKeefe’s last night here. We’ve done absolutely nothing and both of us seemed to enjoy that. Lots of sleep (no! really!) and lots of down time. I also, saints preserve us, cleaned out most of my kitchen cupboards. [I’ve only been trying to get around to this for several years – why I picked this week is a mystery.]

My DSL has been down. In fact it’s still down. If you’re reading this, I’ve actually managed to upload it via dialup – or it’s several days after the fact.

For his week here, we’ve mostly just been noshing on this and that – cheese, fruit, bread, Christmas cookies, etc. Tonight, I prepared a recipe I ran across quite by accident a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t even looking for a recipe – I think I was looking for a blueray player.

Anyway, the recipe was for a soft polenta mounded on a plate with a deep well to hold a tomato sauce. I thought it sounded awfully yummy. I showed it to Chef Boy ‘R Mine and he made some suggestions to improve the flavors and textures. [I say frequently that I taught him everything he knows – he’s a damn fine chef!]

I made some more changes. The end result doesn’t bear much resemblance to the original recipe.

Winter Salad

While my son was growing up, I prided myself on the fact that we had dinner at the table nearly every night. Recent research suggests this is one of the most important things you can do to raise well-adjusted kids and strengthen family bonds. My son is fabulous, but my marriage ended a few years ago. After cooking daily for nearly 30 years, I was tired of it. And summoning the energy to cook for one was too much to expect. Besides, not having to cook has been an illicit pleasure. My diet’s gone to hell, but I’ve wallowed in the freedom to feast on Cheez-Its for dinner.

While I was never keen on fixing Tuesday’s meatloaf or Thursday’s tuna casserole, I did enjoy real cooking. Usually on Saturday or Sunday, I’d pull out recipes I’d gathered from here and there – or go web surfing and find something I’d never tried before. Many were good, some were awful, others were fantastic. Very few achieved fantastic the first try.

I’d decided to make the polenta thing while HMOKeefe was here.

I’ve been pretty scatterbrained lately. While I’m pretty sure I bought portabella mushrooms, fresh garlic, and scallions – they were nowhere to be found. I flat out forgot the wedge of parmesan. At 5:30 I did the 50 yard dash to my little local grocery store and procured a 5-cheese mix of Italian cheese, canned portabellas, ground garlic and heavy whipping cream. For the life of me, I have no idea why I thought I needed whipping cream. It’s in the freezer.

Not an auspicious start.

Mmmmmmmmmm

Nonetheless, I soaked 1.5 cups of stoneground yellow cornmeal in 2 cups of chicken broth. I brought another 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil, mixed in the cornmeal mixture, tossed in some sea salt, white pepper and garlic and brought it to a boil. I then turned the heat down to nearly nonexistent, stirred frequently and began the sauce while the polenta cooked the required 40 minutes.

I formed ground Italian sausage into small balls, browned them, dumped in crushed tomatoes, basil, onion, the sub-par garlic, crushed red pepper and heaps of oregano. (I love oregano.) I set the sauce to simmer.

I dragged out romaine lettuce, red grapes, red onion, oranges, black olives and pumpernickel croutons. It became a salad dressed with an excellent, but bottled Caesar. (Radishes would have added a lot to it.)

I boiled some rigatoni in case the polenta was a disaster.

I checked the sauce, added more oregano and tossed in canned chunked portabella ‘shrooms and black olives. I found one of the microwave steam bag thingies of whole green beans in the freezer and set them to nuking.

I cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

I took out the loaf of Tuscan flatbread the fine bakers at Kroger made, sliced it, heated it and drizzled it with a really kick-ass peppery olive oil my son gave to me a year or so ago. (I tend to save the really good stuff.)

I dumped some water into the polenta as it looked too thick, stirred in a cup of the 5-cheese blend and mounded it on the plates making a neat well for the sauce. I ladled the sauce – so chunky it was more of a ragout bordering on a ratatouille – and decided next time eggplant was going to be necessary.

I put rigatoni on the plates and dressed it with olive oil and more of the cheese. I fished green beans out of the bag with salad tongs and put them on the plate. I arranged the bread on the plate. HMOKeefe opened a nice Malbec and we sat down to eat.

Oh my.

We even had flowers on the table.

I am never ever pleased with something the first go-around. Considering I used nasty cheese, gross mushrooms and <gasp> dried garlic, I’m astonished. This was one fine plate of food. The addition of eggplant and the use of fresh ingredients are things I’d change.  Those changes would take fabulous food and catapult it into the realm of foodgasm.

The textures were beautiful. It was a lovely stick-to-your-ribs heap of comfort food for a cold winter’s night. The Malbec was stout enough to stand up to the strong flavors and what’s not to like about sneaking red grapes and oranges into a salad?

A lovely, lovely meal I’ll be making again.

HMOKeefe has retired for the night (I wore him out), I’m finishing the Malbec and wishing my camera did a better job photographing food. I’m going to attempt to post this, but I’m expecting a big bunch of cursing at Frontier as I try to coax dialup to upload. We’ll see.

Happy New Year, y’all. Eat well, love well, and other good wishes to you for this brand new year.

[Woo Hoo!  2011 is looking good!  Dialup was a whole lot easier than I had even hoped for!  It’s a good day to be me!]

6 thoughts on “Brand new favorite winter comfort food (Italian style)

    • Oh, Granny Sue! How have you been. I am so very behind on all of my blog reading and such. It’s one of this year’s resolutions to get back to the folks I admire – you’re definitely one of those people.

    • One of these days I’ll tell the story about when Chef Boy ‘R Mine was working at the Greenbrier and I was treated to a “free” meal. Food is one of my great pleasures and it’s a wonder I’m not morbidly obese.

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