Thursday, November 24, 2011

A tasty Italian spread

I grew up on polenta. It is a cheap, filling and useful multi-tasker in the kitchen. In it’s traditional form it can be served plain with cheese or with sauces and even fried into chips. You can also substitute or add cornmeal in some recipes instead of flour or breadcrumbs, it takes a little tweaking as the textures aren’t the same. Polenta is a great addition to savoury muffins and breads.

POLENTA NAPOLITANA with layers of melted mozzarella is the quintessential comfort food for me. Topped with CRISPY EGGPLANT BALLS and a sprinkling of sharp parmesan cheese it is a very satisfying meal.

The two side dishes we made were FENNEL, BLOOD ORANGE, BEETROOT & WALNUT SALAD and ROAST BROCCOLI w/ LEMON and PINE NUTS. Two excellent and colourful choices. If you’ve never tried roast broccoli, give it a try it is delicious!

We finished our meal with some lovely BISCOTTI, this time we made them with ALMONDS and GLACE CHERRIES. These would make great gifts for family and friends for Christmas as they look very pretty and keep well in a sealed jar.

Hope you enjoy this week’s recipes!

polenta & eggplant balls


A satisfying yet gluten free alternative to pasta.

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Equipment: chopping board, knife, garlic press, large pot with lid, frypan, wooden spoon, baking dish



6 cups water

2 cups polenta

1 teaspoon salt

1 quantity Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)

250gm Mozzarella cheese, sliced (optional)

100 gm Parmesan cheese

6 basil leaves, torn (as a garnish)


1. Bring the water to the boil in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid and add salt.

2. Whilst stirring the water, pour in the polenta in a thin stream.

3. Simmer and continue to stir with a long handled wooden spoon for 5 minutes.

4. Place on lid and sit at the back of the stove top whilst you prepare the sauce.

Simple Tomato Sauce


¼ cup olive oil

1 brown onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

400gm tin Italian tomatoes, whole

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt & black pepper


1. In a frypan, gently heat oil and fry the onion and the garlic till translucent and without colour

2. Add tinned tomatoes squishing them with your (clean) fingers.

3. Add oregano and cook for 10 minutes.

4. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

To serve:

Stir polenta well and pour into an oven proof serving dish.

If using mozzarella, place slices on top and place under grill to melt till golden and bubbly.

Serve spoonfuls onto plates topped with tomato sauce, a sprinkle of parmesan and garnish with torn basil leaves.

Variations: Polenta goes very well with roasted vegetables such as mushrooms, zucchini and eggplant, vegetarian meatless balls or the following recipe for crispy eggplant balls…

eggplant mixeggplant balls

The eggplant and mushroom mix before being rolled up into balls and fried till crispy…


Serve as finger food or with pasta and fresh tomato sauce as a main course.

Serves: makes around small 32 balls

Preparation: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes


Large pot of boiling water, knife, chopping board, wooden spoon, colander, large bowl, small bowl, fork, frypan, tray, paper towel


450 grams eggplant cut in 3cm cubes

1 tablespoon salt

100 grams breadcrumbs, fresh or “Panko” (or stale bread torn into chunks)

25 grams pecorino or parmesan cheese, grated

50 grams kalamata or green olives, finely chopped

200 grams mushroom, finely chopped

1 large egg

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

Freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil, for frying

50 grams fine dry breadcrumbs, for frying


1.Salt 4 litres of boiling water and add the eggplant

2.Boil uncovered for 10 minutes, pushing the eggplant occasionally under the water

(Alternatively, cook the eggplant for 6 minutes in the microwave till soft and rest before continuing with the recipe)

3.Drain eggplant in colander, cool and squeeze out excess water

4.Chop finely and place in a large bowl

5.Fry mushrooms in a little olive oil till dry

6.Combine the eggplant and mushrooms

7.Add in parsley, 100 grams breadcrumbs or bread, egg, garlic and cheese

8.Blend with a fork and season with salt & pepper

9.Cover frypan with a 2cm of olive oil and heat gently

10. Fry a little of the mix to check the seasoning, adjust if necessary

If the eggplant balls fall apart you may need to add more breadcrumbs or stale bread to make the mixture dry enough to bind together.

11. Roll remaining mix into 1” balls and set on a tray

12. Roll balls in dry bread crumbs till evenly coated

13. Fry the balls in hot oil, turning till golden brown all over

14. Drain on absorbent paper and cool slightly before serving

Variations: I like to use stale olive sourdough in the mix instead of breadcrumbs.


Fennel Beetroot Blood Orange & Walnut Salad


Serves: 6

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Equipment: foil, knife, chopping board, salad bowl or platter, whisk, a mandolin slicer is handy!


2 medium beetroot, washed and stalks/ roots trimmed to 1”

2 small fennel bulbs, washed and trimmed

½ small red onion, thinly sliced

½ small bunch radishes, washed and thinly sliced (optional)

½ cup walnuts, lightly toasted

2 blood oranges, peeled and segmented (no pith)

2 cups salad mix, washed and dried

½ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)


100 ml extra virgin olive oil

50 ml white balsamic or apple cider vinegar

Salt and Pepper to taste


1.Wrap beetroot in foil and bake for 30-40 minutes till a knife pierces them easily, rest

2.Meanwhile, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

3.Using a vegetable peeler or mandolin slice the fennel as thin as possible, set aside

4.Slice radish and red onion thinly, set aside

5. Peel blood oranges, removing all the pith and then carefully cut the segments. Add the juices to the salad dressing.

6.Cut pomegranate in half and remove all the seeds, set aside. (optional)

7.Place salad leaves in a bowl or on a platter.

8.Combine fennel, radish, onion and walnuts with the dressing, taste and adjust the seasoning.

9.Top with the cooled beetroot cut into wedges, blood orange segments and pomegranate seeds and serve immediately.

roast broccoli


This dish elevates humble broccoli to a delicious zesty dish.

Serves: 6

Preparation: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes


Chopping board, sharp knife, large bowl, large shallow baking tray, lemon zester

Oven 180C


2 large heads of broccoli (c. 1 kilo)

1/3 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic

Salt and Pepper

¼ cup pine nuts

1 lemon

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated (optional)


1.Cut the broccoli into medium size florets

2.In a large bowl toss broccoli, olive oil, garlic and pine nuts

3.Spread evenly on baking tray and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper

4.Roast for 20 minutes till stems are tender

5.Just before serving, sprinkle with cheese (optional), lemon zest and lemon juice.

The cooked broccoli is great tossed through penne pasta.


Broccolini or cauliflower can also be cooked this way.

almond biscotti


A simple recipe, perfect for coffee or to serve with dessert.

Serves: makes about 36 thin biscotti

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Equipment: large bowl, 2 baking trays, baking paper, grater, electric mixer, sharp serrated knife.

Oven at 170C.


1 cup caster sugar

2 eggs

1 lemon rind, finely grated

2 cups plain flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

150 gm almonds, raw

¼ cup extra flour for kneading on bench


1. Line baking tray with baking paper.

2. Place sugar, eggs, and grated lemon rind in a large bowl.

3. Beat with electric mixer till pale and thick

4. Fold in sifted flour, baking powder and almonds.

5. Using your hands, lightly knead the dough on a floured surface till smooth.

6. Divide the mixture in half and form 2 long logs about 25 cm long and 5 cm wide.

7. Place on prepared baking tray and bake for 20 -25 minutes till golden.

8. Remove from the oven and cool. Reduce oven temperature to 140C.

9. Using a sharp serrated knife gently cut on a slight angle into ½ cm thin slices.

10. Place slices flat on paper lined trays and bake for 15- 20 minutes turning once.

11. Remove from oven and allow biscuits to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Serving suggestions:

Traditionally served with coffee, wine (especially Vin Santo) or liqueur.

An easy dessert is a dollop of mascarpone with a little glass of Vin Santo and a few biscotti.

Can also add some crunch to creamy desserts and poached fruit.

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