Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Griddled Polenta with Roasted Tomatoes

If you have never tried polenta before, please allow me to inform you that it is THE BOMB. Compared to other carb-type stuff, it's pretty low calorie, it's as cheap as 'owt, it's a complex carbohydrate which is apparently a good thing (something something glycaemic index??) and it's gluten free.
It also needs very little adornment other than stock and garlic or herbs to flavour it. Intrigued? Good.

You can buy polenta from major supermarkets (definitely Sainsburys) and health food shops, either in its ground form or even as a ready-made block. Italfresco sell a ready-made version in Sainsburys which is all ready to be sliced and griddled, and costs 75p. Ground polenta is occasionally called fine cornmeal, but it amounts to the same thing. The main thing to check is the cooking time - some grades of polenta/cornmeal apparently take up to 45 minutes of stirring - no thanks. For this recipe, I used Suma's polenta (health food shop) which only needs stirring for one minute.

I've added cheese to the polenta here but it's dead easy to veganise - just omit the cheese and make sure your stock is vegan (for example, Marigold vegan bouillon).

This recipe only really has 2 main ingredients so, apart from beans on toast, it's one of the cheapest and easiest meals for two I can think of.

If after this you're in my club of Polenta Enthusiasts, try some different stuff - add different things to the polenta as it's cooking, eat it in its gloopy porridge-y form, use it as a hotpot topping, as a pizza base...

Anyway. I shall stop enthusing about cornmeal products because it's getting a bit sad. Have fun!

Serves 2

What you need

100g quick-cook polenta
500ml water
2 cloves of garlic,crushed
a good vegetable stock
250g cherry tomatoes - a mix of colours is nice if you can get them
olive oil
50g grated cheddar cheese (optional)
fresh basil
salt and pepper

What to do

Boil the kettle. Add a tiny drizzle of oil to a deep saucepan and add the crushed garlic - just heat it through to take the raw edge off, no need to brown it.

Add 500ml of the boiled water into the pan with the garlic and turn the heat up high to bring it back to the boil. Crumble in a vegetable stock cube, or if you've got 500ml of home-made vegetable stock hanging around then use that instead (if you're fancy like that).

When the pan has reached boiling point, pour in the polenta slowly in a thin stream, stirring all the while. It's easier if you pour the polenta from a jug.

Keep stirring for 1 minute (or however long the packet advises) - watch out because it will bubble like a crazy volcano, but that's normal. When the polenta has thickened, season it generously with salt, pepper and anything else you like (e.g. fresh or dried herbs if you have any knocking around) and add the cheese if using. Stir to combine, then pour into something with a wide, flat base like a roasting tin.

Leave it to cool a bit, then refrigerate it for about half an hour - it will solidify and you'll be able to slice it.

While the polenta is cooling, slice your cherry tomatoes in half and transfer to a roasting tin with a slug of olive oil. About 15 minutes in to the polenta-cooling time, put the tomatoes in the oven at 160 degrees. They need to be in for half an hour, so when the polenta comes out of the fridge you'll have another 15 minutes to slice and griddle it - tweak the timings as you like.

Bring the polenta out of the fridge when it's had its half an hour, and slice it into wedges. Brush a heavy griddle pan with a little bit of olive oil - if it's non-stick, this isn't always necessary - and put it over a high heat until it's outrageously hot.

Add the polenta slices and griddle for a few minutes on each side until they have nice char marks.

Serve the polenta slices with the roasted tomatoes, then scatter with a torn-up handful of fresh basil.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Baked Pasta Rolls/Sideways Canneloni

Hope everyone had an amazing Christmas and New Year!

This recipe is probably the only good thing to have come out of eating nothing but restaurant food for two months (apart from increased fatness-linked winter warmth). My colleagues and I ate at Jamie's Italian on a couple of occasions and enjoyed it - however it's not exactly great for veggies, because although there are a few options which are either veggie already or easily adaptable, nothing is labelled and they are pretty indiscriminate with the Parmesan so you have to just trust the knowledge of your waiter/waitress when it comes to making a choice!

This recipe is an amalgamation of what I ended up eating in Jamie's Italian - which they called Honeycomb Canneloni - and a recipe from Jamie's website called Squash & Spinach Pasta Rotolo. I've picked the best of both worlds when it comes to the filling - half have a spinach and feta filling, half have aubergine and sun-dried tomato. There's no reason why you can't experiment with different stuff, let me know in the comments if you hit on something incredible! I've labelled the recipe steps which relate to the different fillings, so you can ignore one and double the quantity of the other if you like.

Although it's pretty fiddly - I felt like I had 10 thumbs when I was trying to do the rolls - it looks really pretty and is a great variation on boring old canneloni.

Serves 4

What you need

olive oil
6 fresh lasgne sheets (or dried, pre-boiled)
300g fresh spinach
1 onion (chopped)
half a standard-size block of veggie feta
pinch of nutmeg
500ml passata
50g mature cheddar or 25g faux-parmesan
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 aubergines
a good handful sun-dried tomatoes
a few fresh basil leaves (optional)
salt & pepper

What to do

Aubergine filling - First, slice both the aubergines in half vertically (stalks removed) and score across the cut side in a criss-cross pattern like you would a mango. Place in a baking dish. Drizzle each half with a tablespoon of olive oil (sorry for chronic unhealth but aubergine is such an oil sponge) and place in the oven at 180 degrees for about half an hour until soft all the way through. Set aside to cool.

Spinach filling - While the aubergines are doing, you can be sorting your spinach. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and add the onion. Fry until softened and starting to brown at the edges, then add the spinach and put the lid on the pan. Leave for about 5 minutes until the spinach has wilted, then season liberally with salt, pepper and the nutmeg before taking off the heat. Pour off any excess liquid that's come off the spinach.

Aubergine filling - When the cooked aubergine is cool, scrape the flesh out of the skin and mash it with a fork. Cut up the sun-dried tomatoes (I find scissors easiest) and stir them in. Season with salt and pepper. 

Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan (So much oil! So many pans! I know, I know) and add the crushed garlic. Wait until it's sizzling but not burning, then pour in the passata. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. 

Now for the fiddly part. Lay out one lasagne sheet at a time on a plate or board. It helps to spray or brush the surface with a small amount of oil to stop it sticking. Make sure both your fillings and the feta are within reach.

Spread the lasagne sheet with your chosen filling - alternate fillings when you change sheet to make sure it's half and half - adding a crumbled handful of feta to the spinach one, then roll up like a tiny pasta carpet. Slice each roll into three, and place each roll carefully into the pan with the passata. Place them side by side until the pan is full.

Grate over your cheese of choice and scatter over the basil if you're using. Bake in a 180 degree oven for around half an hour until golden brown.

Serve with garlic bread or a green salad, depending on the degree of January diet austerity you're enforcing.