Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Savor the Flavor!

Melanzane alla Menta con Polenta al Pomodoro & Ricotta
Minted Eggplant on Tomato Polenta & Ricotta

Some flavors go together wonderfully- like eggplant, garlic and mint for example, or polenta, basil and tomato. So what could be better than the combination of these great combinations? With their full, rich flavors combining with fresh ricotta cheese, this was wonderful but simple vegetarian meal, ready in perhaps 30 minutes and perfect to warm you up on a Winter's night...

These are wonderful, classic Italian flavors and ingredients and this is good, healthy, down-to-earth food and that is the best part of it! I love food that is as good for you as it is tasty- just good fresh produce, tasty herbs and spices, low fat, high flavor and no fuss! I neither like junk-food nor pretentious "gourmet" tomfoolery- keep it real and make it fun!

For the polenta, I started off with a little finely chopped onion and garlic, which I sautéed in just a little olive oil until the onion became translucent and then I added a good pinch each of both finely chopped basil and parsley. Next came a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, which I stirred in well for a minute or two- this gets rid of any bitterness you might get if you just squeeze it in straight from the tube... apparently ;-) 

I then deglazed the pan with boiling water, stirring up all of the good flavor and dissolving the tomato paste until it was just a light, red broth and there was just enough water in the frying pan to cover it. I seasoned it with salt, pepper, a little nutmeg, a leaf of bay and a pinch of cayenne, then added 3 tablespoons of polenta... this was plenty for one generous serving. I stirred it in and of course it soon absorbed all of the water and became a thick paste... so I thinned it down with a little more water and let it bubble away at a low simmer, stirring occasionally. I repeated this procedure a further 2-3 times in the duration of the cooking time of a further 15 minutes... but whilst I did that, I prepared my minty eggplant in a second pan.

The eggplant, cut into bite-sized chunks, went into a very hot frying pan with just a little olive oil. I seasoned it with salt and pepper right from the beginning- the salt helps the eggplant exude its own liquids and for it to cook more quickly. I then added a small onion, chopped and a little crushed garlic, along with a handful of finely chopped fresh mint and parsley. The other spice that I added was just a tiny pinch of cinnamon and I also added a little squeeze of lemon- but that was it. Basically the mint and the garlic were the most important flavors- the lemon just goes to "lift" the tastes with a little freshness and the cinnamon makes it blend well with the tangy polenta. 

So stirring both pans at the same time, in one, I browned my eggplant and in the other, I blended my creamy, rich polenta... perfect timing! I kept the heat rather high on my eggplant and the oil at a minimum... as long as it is moving, it won't stick, it will brown and it will be delicious!

I served them together with a blob of fresh ricotta cheese, a sprinkle of chili flakes and a drizzle of good olive oil... and let me tell you- this simple plate of poor peoples food made me feel like a king! try it- it's a feeling you will like too!

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