Spinach Polenta With Crispy Sauteed Mushrooms

I could seriously snack on these mushrooms all day long; they are buttery and crispy and add so much flavor and texture to creamy, cheesy polenta! Making them is pretty simple and really only requires a good pan that distributes heat really well, cast iron is my go to! Make sure you don’t over crowd the pan and don’t panic when all your butter disappears in the pan! Mushrooms are like a sponge and soak up liquid like crazy…eventually they hit a saturation point and all that stored liquid comes rushing out. This liquid will evaporate with more cooking and what is left is a concentrated, flavorful, crispy mushroom.

 

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Polenta is also pretty simple and makes for a great change up if you feel like all you cook are potatoes and rice.  It’s similar to grits; both are essentially dried corn pourage. The difference is: to make grits you take the dried corn and soak it in lie, (the same way you make masa from hominy) re-dry it, and then grind it into a meal. Polenta is just ground corn (corn meal).  You get more corn flavor with polenta, but grits cook faster. I like polenta for its flavor. When buying corn meal for polenta you have two options, you can buy plain old corn meal or you can buy (usually imported) dry polenta meal which is just a slightly finer ground meal than regular corn meal.  I typically just use plain old corn meal; I did however run it though my spice grinder for a minute just to get it a little finer. 

 

Crispy Mushrooms

  • 1 package mushroom (I used Cremini Mushrooms)

  • 3 tablespoon butter

  • Salt and Pepper to taste

In a cast iron pan on medium/high heat melt butter, add sliced mushrooms and salt and pepper, stir till fully coated in butter.  Spread the mushrooms in the pan to ensure maximum contact with the pan and cook for about 3-4 min.  turn over mushrooms and cook for another 3-4 min. stir again and crisp for another 4 min.  or till desired crispiness. Mushrooms should be golden brown in color and smell like toasted butter.

 

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Spinach Polenta

  • 1 cup Corn Meal (or dry polenta)

  • 2 cups Milk

  • 1 cup Chicken Stock

  • 1 bunch of spinach (about 2 cups)

  • ½ cup Parmesan Cheese

  • ½ cup Butter

  • ½ cup Cream

  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor blend together spinach, olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, set aside.  In a pot with the heat off add milk, chicken stock, butter and corn meal.  Place on stove and slowly bring to a low boil/simmer, cook for 20 minutes stirring often to prevent sticking and clumping. Pull off heat and add parmesan cheese, spinach puree and cream.  Stir together and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with crispy mushrooms. Makes about 2-3 servings.

 

Zuppa Toscana Soup (My Way)

When I tried the Zuppa Toscana soup at olive garden, back when I was a teenager, the first thing I did afterward was go straight home and try to recreate it! After many years and lots of research and development, I have finally arrived at a recipe I like better.  It’s super simple to make and somehow transcends the seasons, it’s a good summer soup as well as a great fall/winter soup!

As with most things in life food is only as good as the ingredients you put into it. I used fresh lacinato kale (dinosaur kale) form the garden, whole cream (from a local dairy), organic potatoes, homemade chicken stock, and fresh herbs from the herb garden on our deck. I did use canned corn because it’s all we had at the time I was making this but fresh corn cut from the cob would make it especially delicious.

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Zuppa Toscana

  •      2 Quarts Chicken Stock
  •      Whole Medium Onion (diced)
  •      3 Cloves Garlic (minced)
  •      1lb Italian Sausage
  •      ½ Teaspoon. Red Pepper Flakes
  •      3 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
  •      2 Bay Leaves
  •      1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley (finely chopped)
  •      5-7  Potatoes 
  •      1 Cup Cream
  •      1 Larch Bunch Kale (woody stems removed, chopped)
  •      1 Can Corn or 3 Fresh Cobs (corn cut from cob)

In a large pot cook onions and garlic 1 min. on medium heat. Add sausage and brown. Add thyme, bay leaves, red pepper flakes and cook for a minute to bloom spices.  Pour in stock and diced potatoes; bring to a boil and cook potatoes at a good simmer till potatoes are tender, about 8 to 10 min.  Add chopped kale and corn cook for another 2 min. finish with cream and chopped parsley.  Serves about 6-8, soup can be frozen for up to 3 months, if you are planning on freezing it reduce the cook time of the potatoes to about 5 min.

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Sea Scallop Pasta With Spinach And Pistachio Pesto

Pesto is one of the best things to have on hand for delicious meals in a pinch. When I make pesto I like to make a large batch and freeze it for later.  Another thing I love about pesto is how versatile it is, it’s so easy to exchange ingredients for different varieties and flavors, for example I have used walnuts or pecans in place of the classic pine nut. I have also experimented with the basil, trading it out for parsley, kale, green peas and even nettles (which was delicious).  For this recipe I used spinach and tarragon for the greens and pistachios for the nuts.

When making pesto its easiest to use a food processor, though you can manually chop all the ingredients if you don’t have one. I basically just throw all the ingredients, except the olive oil, in the food processor and pulse till fully combined and until it's the consistency I want, (I like it with some texture, not completely smooth) then I add in the olive oil at the end and mix it slowly. Sometimes if you over mix olive oil it can taste bitter that’s why I mix it at the end.

A few tips for cooking scallops: I used small bay scallops because that’s what was good at my grocery store. These tips also apply for cooking larger diver scallops as well (maybe ever better). Make sure you clean and dry them really well, a dry scallop is critical for searing an browning, all the excess liquid will end up only steaming and you won’t get any color. Salt and pepper them lightly and make sure you pan is hot!! If your pan is not hot enough they will stick bad! Don’t over crowd your pan, they need room for the steam to dissipate or again, you won’t develop color. Scallops cook really quickly and because they are so small they carryover cook after you remove them from the pan so only cook them for no longer than 3 min. on each side depending on the size. For my small scallops I only cooked them about a min on each side.

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Spinach Pistachio Pesto

  •       2 Cups Packed Spinach
  •        ½ Cup Tarragon Leaves
  •       3 Cloves Garlic
  •       ½ Cup Parmesan Cheese
  •       1 Cup Roasted (unsalted) Pistachios
  •       ½ Olive Oil
  •       ½ teaspoon Lemon Zest
  •       1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
  •       Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor add all ingredients except for the oil, pulse till combined and the texture you like. Add the oil and pulse to combine. Store in an air tight container in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for 3 months.

Scallop Pesto Pasta

  •       1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  •       ½ Cup Pesto
  •       ½ Cup Cream
  •       1lb Scallops
  •       1 Package Pasta (about 12 oz dried)
  •       ¼ Cup Reserved Pasta Water
  •       Salt and Pepper To Taste

Cook Pasta as directed on package with plenty of salt in the water. Heat cast Iron pan (heavy bottomed pan) to medium/high heat, add a little oil and gently layer in washed and dried scallops. Cooking in 2 to 3 additions, sear the scallops for about 1-3 min (depending on size) gently turn and cook another 1-2 min. remove to a plate and cook the rest of your scallops. In the same pan add in the cream and stir to remove and dissolve the bits from the pan. Add in the pesto and pix till sauce comes together, add in the cooked pasta and toss in the sauce. Add a little pasta water to loosen in needed. Top with cooked scallops and micro greens. Serve immediately. Make about 5-7 servings.

 

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