Monday, April 21, 2014

Kale Caesar with Polenta Croutons and Minted Pea Soup

I've been obsessed with peas lately...its spring for goodness sakes! And caesar salads, I have no explanation for that though.

I still had half of a cookie sheet of chilled polenta leftover from Jaimie's wedding that I was trying to use up, and recently realized I needed to harvest from my mint plant, so that is the primary inspiration of this dinner combination: necessity (and craving!).

The soup is vegan without the suggested yogurt or sour cream garnish and the caesar is not vegan due to the dressing I picked--- it has eggs in it. It is however vegetarian because I didn't use anchovies for the dressing like most chefs do in caesar!

For the soup:
Olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
5 stalks of celery, diced
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups of frozen or fresh green peas
2 cups of vegetable broth (don't forget you can make your own! see recipe!)
1/3 cup of mint, rinsed and lightly chopped
Plain yogurt or sour cream for a garnish

For the Caesar:
1 head of kale, about 3 cups rinsed and chopped finely (and I keep the stems, not everyone does...)
Olive oil
2 cups of chilled, prepared polenta (**) chopped into cubes or longish cubes
1 egg entire, and 1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon of dijon mustard
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup of loosely packed basil 
2 tablespoons of lemon juice or white vinegar
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese

Chop onions and celery and saute in a soup pan with a thin coat of olive oil over medium heat until the two vegetables soften.

Add garlic and broth.

Simmer over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes.

Blanche peas (add to boiling water, and then after 3 minutes submerge in cold water to save the color and texture) and afterwards drain peas and add to soup. Continue to simmer gently over **low heat-- making sure not to cook it so hard that you ruin the nice bright green color of the peas! 

Using leftover, chilled and shaped polenta, (**Prepare polenta as normal in a pan on the stove about 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil, 6 cups of water and 1 cups of polenta stirring constantly and cooking for about 30 minutes over medium heat, spread cooked polenta onto cookie sheets, you can bake it and then chill it or just chill it. Chill it long enough (about 2 hours) that it holds it shape. Cut into pieces.) fry in a 1/4" deep layer of olive oil over medium heat until all sides are golden brown. This takes attention and filling constantly so as not to overcook any one side. 

Meanwhile, harvest your mint...errr prep your mint if you don't have a plant to harvest from in your kitchen garden (though I recommend it!)

Those polenta coutons take about 15-20 minutes to get to the right level of crispiness/goldenness (unless you have a deep fryer, I sure don't!) so keep watching them as your finish your soup with the mint...

Using a hand blender or regular blender, mix mint and soup together, tasting to see if you might like to add salt. I prefer my soup about 85% smooth and 15% rustically chunky, so I quit blending it when it got to that consistency. Cover and remove from heat-- heating it more at this point will cook out the mint flavor.

In a small food processor, add all ingredients for caesar dressing (egg, egg yolk, dijon, garlic, basil, lemon juice/vinegar) except** the oil. Blend all ingredients and then slowly blend in the oil, drizzling just a little bit at a time, which will emulsify the egg and acid, creating a creamy dressing. 

 All done it will look like this:

Coat your finely chopped kale with the dressing and parmesan cheese.

At this point (finally!) your polenta croutons should be complete-- let them drain on a paper towel to remove excess oil.

Add more cheese, salt and pepper so that the salad tastes as you like.

And serve!

I garnished the minted pea soup with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of baby mint.

WTF Was for Jaimie's Wedding: Italian Appetizers

I got the honor of both officiating Jaimie's ceremony and making a few cicheti, or Venetian small plates for her wedding.

And I enlisted a bunch of my favorite to help me.

Thanks everyone. I love you Jaimie!

Matt in an apron...for the first time ever?

Caprese Skewers:
Sista is building a platter of beautiful caprese skewers using fresh basil leaves, cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls stuck on skewers and drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile I had roasted the diced eggplant and diced red pepper for the crespelle (stuffed Italian crepes) the recipe is below.

And I had to make polenta for the grilled polenta squares... (recipe below)

Thanks for your house, kitchen and hospitality, Brian!

Stuffing crespelle...


For the Crespelle: (to serve 8)
1/2 heaping) cup of flour
3/4 cup of milk
1 whole egg plus 1 yolk

For filling and topping:
one medium (3/4 lb eggplant)
2 medium red bell peppers
3/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup of grated Fontina (or Fontinal)

For topping:
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons Parmigiano

Put flour in a bowl, add milk in a very thin stream beating steadily with a whisk, taking care that lumps do not form. When all the milk has been incorporated add the whole egg, egg yolk and a pinch of salt. Mix steadily for about 2 minutes. Heat crepe pan, and with each crepe swipe the pan with butter. Add just under a 1/4 c. batter to pan and cook like you would any crepe! Cook and stack crespelle (they can be made ahead of time and once they have cooled completely covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated). 

Cut eggplants into 1/2 cubes. Salt in calendar to sweat out bitterness for at least half an hour and up to an hour. Rinse under cold water dry with paper towels. You can either than either fry them in batches in olive oil or roast them in the oven after tossing them with olive oil. Your choice, just going for a bit of that nice rich brownness / a tiny bit of caramelization...
Roast the eggplants, peal and dice to the same size as eggplant. (these both could be done ahead of time, of course). 
In large bowl mix the peppers and eggplants with the parmigiano and Fontina. Taste for salt. Roll / stuff the crespelle with some of the filling transfer to baking sheet. When all are prepared top with Parmigiano and drizzle with melted butter.

Bake at 450 for 15 minutes until cheese has melted and started to turn golden...

Zucchine Ripiene (Stuffed and Fried Zucchini cups, recipe adapted from Saveur)


1/3 cup milk
1 slice white sandwich bread
4 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2″ lengths
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup canned whole, peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
4 oz. prosciutto, minced
1 oz. pancetta, minced
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. thinly sliced basil


1. Heat oven to 400°. In a bowl, pour milk over bread; soak for 10 minutes. Squeeze bread to drain milk; discard milk. Return bread to bowl.

2. Using a melon baller, hollow out zucchini pieces, leaving 1/4″ walls, to form "cups"; season insides with salt and pepper. Stir together tomatoes, 2 tbsp. oil, chile flakes, garlic, and salt and pepper in a bowl; set sauce aside.

3. Mix bread with prosciutto, pancetta, Parmesan, parsley, egg, and salt and pepper. Stuff mixture evenly among zucchini cups. Heat remaining oil and butter in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add cups; cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 2–4 minutes. Transfer cups, stuffing side up, to a 9″ x 9″ baking dish; pour sauce over and around cups. Bake until zucchini is tender, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with basil.

AJ also used his amazing cocktail skills to lend himself to the wedding--- prepping lemon twists, wedges and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice for drinks after the ceremony.

Clark Kent...I mean Ian, diligently filling the ripiene! Thanks Ian!! You're amazing.


A very handsome woo-boy.

For the polenta squares:
 I prepared the polenta (2 cups of polenta to six cups of water) with butter and salt and pepper, and when I was cooked I spread it out evenly onto a greased cookie sheet, and broiled it on high for 15 minutes, until it was golden brown. Then I placed it in the refrigerator so that it would cool and easily slice. I topped each square with my grandmother's simple homemade marinara (recipe on this blog) basil and freshly grated cheese, at the wedding we also offered friend pancetta as a topping on the side.

The ripiene were topped with a spicy tomato sauce, made with the grease from frying the pancetta and proscuitto, fried garlic, chili and salt and pepper. Yum!