New Castle News

August 3, 2013

Culinary Conversation: Polenta, conversation lead to fun evening

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Very seldom do I get cravings for any type of food.

When I do, it’s for something I haven’t had in a long time.

So when I had a chance to order polenta at an annual Italian church festival in Youngstown, I did. For those who may not be familiar, polenta is a dish made with cornmeal. It is usually prepared by placing it in a pan while warm, then allowing it to firm up as it cools. Sometimes, cooks cut the firmed polenta into squares and sauté them in a pan. And usually it is served with sauce.

Why would anyone get so excited over what some simply refer to as mush?

Well, for one, I never make it because my husband doesn’t like it. He grew up in an Italian household where his father prepared homemade pasta and sauce every week, and also made the aforementioned polenta. It just wasn’t up Doug’s gustatory alley along with his dislike of anything “custardy.”

The vendor where we purchased the polenta was generous with the serving size. I told myself to only eat half and take the rest home. I ravaged it all, leaving not one crumb on the white Chinet plate. We sat at a table with a group of older, self-proclaimed Italian ladies who were entertained by my enjoyment of what they consider everyday food — all the while asking how many children did we have and how long had we been married.

As we prepared to go see other attractions, I had to guess the age of each woman. The answer was, in counter-clock fashion from where I was seated — 88, 77, 90, 93 and 76. I was astonished because these women looked amazing. It must be the polenta. Or the olive oil. Or the sauce. Or all of the above.

There was one other indulgence I recently enjoyed to the max. Although I’m originally from the hot-dog capital, I rarely eat those, either. Yet, one evening, a grilled-to-perfection hot-dog with a lightly grilled bun and spicy golden mustard sounded like the best thing in the world to me. So hubby obliged.

Before I Ieft the festival, someone asked me if I was getting more to take home for the next day.

No, I said.

There are occasions when once is enough because it was delicious the first-time around and I wanted that memory to linger.

Today, we ask for your culinary stories and recipes — especially those that celebrate summer.

And if you have stories or recipe variations to share about polenta, let us know.

Polenta

6 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal

3 tablespoonfuls unsalted butter

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender; stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter and stir until melted.

Chicago-Style Dogs

4 Oscar Mayer Selects Premium beef franks

4 poppy seed hot dog buns

1 small tomato, cut into 8 wedges

4 kosher dill pickle spears

4 teaspoons yellow mustard

1/4 cup chopped onions

1/4 cup sweet pickle relish

Cook franks as directed on package.

Fill buns with franks; place 2 tomato wedges one side of each frank and one pickle spear on other side.

Top with remaining ingredients.

Tomato Pie

1 Ready-to-use refrigerated pie crust (1/2 of 14.1-oz. package)

4 tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup chopped sweet onions

1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 1/2 cups Kraft shredded three cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Heat oven to 350.

Line 9-inch pie plate with pie crust as directed on package for one-crust pie.  Pierce bottom and side with fork. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or just until edge begins to brown. Meanwhile, place tomatoes in colander set over bowl; press onto tomatoes with back of spoon to release as much juice as possible. Discard juice.

Sprinkle onions onto bottom of crust; top with tomatoes and basil. Combine cheese and mayo; spoon over tomatoes to within 1/2 inch of edge.

Bake 30 to 32 minutes or until filling is heated through and crust is golden brown. Sprinkle with additional basil, if desired.

Raspberry Dessert

2 cups raspberry sorbet, softened

1 package (1 oz.) Jell-O vanilla flavor fat-free sugar-free instant pudding

1 cup cold fat-free milk

1 tub Cool Whip sugar-free whipped topping, thawed

1 cup fresh raspberries

Spoon sorbet into foil-lined 9x5-inch loaf pan; freeze 10 minutes.

Beat pudding mix and milk in medium bowl with whisk 2 minutes. Stir in Cool Whip and spread over sorbet.

Freeze 3 hours or until firm. Unmold onto place; remove foil. Let dessert stand 10 minutes to soften slightly before slicing to serve. Top with berries.

*Can soften sorbet in microwave on medium or 50 percent for 10 to 15 seconds or until slightly softened.

Peanut Butter and

Chocolate Crumble Bars

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

2 cups old-fashioned oat

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 package (8 squares) semi-sweet chocolate

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Heat oven to 350.

Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until well blended. Add combined oats, flour and baking soda; mix well. Press 3 cups onto bottom of 13x9-inch pan sprayed with cooking spray.

Microwave chocolate in small microwaveable bowl on HIGH 1 1/2 minutes or until melted, stirring after 45 seconds. Stir in peanut butter. Carefully spread over crust; sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture.

Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

*Crunchy peanut butter can be substituted.

(Recipes have been tested by Kraft Foods)