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Nothing as planned…Or, “Pesto Take Two”

February 13, 2011

A week ago Saturday was one of those days in which nothing goes as planned. Jacob and I managed the morning shopping beautifully–I maneuvered our Cadillac of a stroller through the narrow aisles of our favorite Commercial Drive shops, Jacob kept his grunts and squeals of protest to a minimum, and I made the switch to the baby carrier before entering the last store, heading off baby-melt-down at the pass–so I thoughts things were going to go my way.

Then I tried to make the polenta. I’ve made polenta before. In theory, it’s not a hard dish to make from scratch. But this was polenta with a new twist: polenta with beans and cabbage (I know, I know, it doesn’t sound exactly delectable at first, but I had high hopes), a recipe I found on the ItalianMade website, and something that, at the very least, seemed a wonderfully seasonable choice. I had visions of perfectly crisped pan-fried, bean-speckled polenta slices stacked upward and overlapping on the plate, with a lovely little smear (what’s a prettier word for smear?) of sun dried tomato pesto beside it.

I scorched the polenta trying to get it to a “pulling away from the sides of the pan” consistency. Jacob was fussing loudly. Joshua was trying to sleep (bless him for working nights). And, I was trying to make bread at the same time. Let’s just say I’m an optimist.

Overcooked (say it, Sarah)–okay, BURNED–cabbage and bean polenta does not give off an appetizing aroma.

When Joshua woke up and surveyed the scene (baby-melt-down, Mommy-melt-down, cabbage-and-bean-polenta-melt-down), he said, “Let’s save the polenta. I’ll eat next week while you are out of town.” Did I mention we were having guests for dinner?

I ran up the hill to our little Italian market and bought pasta. Sun dried tomato pesto and pasta. Not exactly the plan…but…

And the salad! This would be lovely, I thought. Beets, oranges–another perfectly seasonable choice–and shavings of Parmesan. I made an extra stop to get the oranges from the store that has been carrying the sweetest, juiciest Valencia oranges ever. But this time the oranges I bought were on the dry side and full of seeds. More seeds than I think I’ve ever seen in an orange. They didn’t make for easy slicing. But with no easy alternative at hand (and time ticking away), I stuck with it. This salad is a great example of the importance of obtaining the choicest, freshest, seasonal produce possible for your meal–a characteristic of Italian cooking. There is nothing to mask the flavors at hand; indeed, the point is to taste the beet, taste the orange, at its prime. These oranges were not the choicest, but the salad was still lovely and I believe this is a good recipe–and something different from the lettuce-based salad.

To finish off the meal, I made tiramisu again because I liked it so much last time. But it didn’t set up for some reason. It was more of a tiramisu soup. Not that anyone complained. Brandy, cream, espresso…a combination worth lapping up in large quantities whatever the form!

Let me finish with two notes:

I am not letting Joshua eat the polenta while I’m out of town for the next two weeks. He put it all away into a very large tupperware and when I took it out to inspect it yesterday, the stench was so…notable…that I officially deemed it inedible.

When I am out of town, I may or may not post. I’m going to meet my niece Natalie, so my thoughts and energies will be directed elsewhere. You can, however, look forward to a guest post from Joshua. One of his food challenges for my time away is to make at least one Italian meal on his own, and post about it. I imagine you’re looking forward to hearing from him as much as I am! I hear he has something breakfasty in mind…

See you in a couple weeks!

The recipes:

INSALATA DI ARANCE BARBABIETOLE ROSSE E PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO from ItalianMade
Beet, Orange and Parmesan Salad

1 lb. beets, cooked and sliced
3 oranges, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup walnuts
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 TBL walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz. Parmesan
freshly ground pepper

Pat beets dry. Arrange beets and orange slices in an attractive, overlapping pattern on a large serving platter.
Toast walnuts in a preheated 350 F oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Chop Finely and sprinkle over the beets and oranges.
Whisk orange juice, lemon juice and salt together in a small bowl. Add oil in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly. Pour dressing over salad.
Make 1/2 cup of thin silvers of Parmesan with a vegetable peeler. Scatter over the salad. Season with freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.

SUN-DRIED TOMATO PESTO (from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant)

3/4 cup oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes, drained
3/4 cup pitted black olives (we used Kalamata)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (packed) cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup Pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil

Put all of the pesto ingredients into a blender or food processor and coarsely blend them so that the pesto is still a bit chunky – i.e. not completely pureed. If using a blender, you will probably need to stop the blender several times to stir the contents with a spatula. Add extra coarse-chopped tomatoes and olives if you like.

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