Jun 21, 2007

Recipe Reviews: Chocolate & Zucchini's Crispy Polenta Triangles and Croque-madame

I finally made a couple of things from the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook. Here are my thoughts:

Given my previous encounters with polenta, I was cautiously optimistic that the Crispy Polenta Triangles (pages 142-143) would finally show me why the dish is so popular among chefs. I'd say the recipe succeeded - sort of. I did omit the walnuts because I was serving the dish to Alex and I am still cautious about giving him nuts despite his showing no signs of a nut allergy, but I don't think the omission affected the quality of the dish. Quick recipe outline to give context to my thoughts: Whisk the polenta into a water-milk mixture, cook until it is very thick, add some oil, herbs and cheese, pour it into a baking dish, refrigerate to let it set, cut into triangles, sprinkle with cheese, and bake until crisp.

The polenta took a lot of work, since I used stone-ground polenta - or, more accurately, it took a lot of time. The work came in holding Tyler on my hip and trying to keep him happy until the polenta was ready to be poured into the baking dish to set. Although the recipe said stone-ground polenta would take about 30 minutes to reach the proper consistency, I gave up after 40 minutes and poured the mixture at that point. It was close to pulling away from the sides of the saucepan, as Clotilde instructed, but not quite. However, Tyler was cranky and hungry and the mixture was thick enough that I couldn't whisk with just one hand. Once baked, the polenta was delicious out of the oven, with a creamy consistency and nutty flavor from the Comté cheese (I couldn't find Beaufort). But although Clotilde said the triangles could be served immediately or at room temperature, they were disappointing at room temperature - the consistency was no longer creamy, the flavor dimmed, and the melted browned cheese looked like a sad blanket. The bottom line, though, is that when first done, this dish persuaded me that I could learn to like polenta under the right circumstances. And I'll definitely make this recipe again.

The other recipe I tried was the Croque-madame, a variation of the Mini Croque-monsieur (pages 148-149). I had read the recipe a while back and made a mental note to make it sometime - it's the kind of sandwich Marc loves. I remembered it as I was racking my brain for something easy to make for dinner without going to the market. Quick recipe description: Clotilde describes Croque-monsieur as "the French grilled cheese, made with Gruyé cheese and brine-cured ham on white sandwich bread." Top the sandwich with a sunny side up egg to get Croque-madame. I substituted prosciutto for the brine-cured ham because that's what I had on hand (I removed the fattiest parts of the prosciutto) and used the Comté that was left over from the polenta recipe. With the cheese already grated, it was a super fast and easy recipe to make. The sandwiches browned beautifully and were delicious with the egg on top. I'll definitely be making this again.

As a final point, I want to highlight the best thing about the recipes in this book: the notes that accompany each recipe. For the polenta, I didn't have any herbs de Provence, but I followed Clotilde's substitution of a blend of dried rosemary, basil, oregano and thyme, all of which I had on hand. Clotilde's note also helpfully indicated that Comté or Gruyé could be used instead of Beaufort, and that the walnuts could be omitted as a variation (she also suggests substituting Parmesan and pine nuts for the Beaufort and walnuts). For the Croque-monsieur, as I've noted, she provides directions for creating a Croque-madame instead. These kinds of notes make the book very easy to cook with - and the recipes are proving to be delicious!

See my previous review of the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook here.

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