polenta

Polenta 'Cake' with Black Olive Pesto Filling and 'Nduja Ricotta 'Frosting'

When Joana from Yummy Food Blog emailed me and asked me if I'd like to enter her Mediterranean-inspired recipe contest I was excited, however, as you may know, I don't usually do things the 'traditional' way. 

From Joana - 'I’m asking a small set of bloggers including yourself to write a blog post or recipe all about your favourite dish that’s inspired by Mediterranean style cooking. For example, I’m originally from Portugal and love seafood and veggie dishes that are packed full of fresh herbs and spices such as Chorizo & Pancetta Bake and Bacalhau Com Natas. The most creative and imaginative post will receive a Kindle Fire HD, there is also a second prize of a £25/$40 Amazon Gift Voucher.'

The recipe contest is sponsored by Spanish travel agency, Canarias -

'Canarias.com - experts for all things travel in and around Spain and the Canary Islands. What once was a car rental company with a small fleet of 40 vehicles has become a major tourism company dedicated to the areas of Spanish tourism, car rental, leisure, health and food. We do everything in our power to offer our visitors the best experience by offering the widest range of products and services - everything the client needs to make their vacation unforgettable.'

I've not had the pleasure of visiting Spain, but Sean has, and despite three separate visits to Italy, Spain is still his #1. Now that we know about Canarias.com, perhaps a trip to the Canary Islands is in order?

I came up with a fun Mediterranean-inspired appetizer that's assembled in an round cake tin. It would be neat to present the 'cake' on a beautiful stand at a dinner party!

Polenta 'Cake' with Black Olive Pesto Filling and 'Nduja Ricotta 'Frosting'

6-8-inch round cake tin - greased lightly with olive oil or butter

1/2 C pinenuts

1 C Kalamata olives, pits removed (I buy Kalamatas that are already pitted and sliced)

1 clove garlic, rough chopped

1/4 C Manchego cheese, grated

1 500g tub Ricotta

1 C 'Nduja**

2 C water

1 1/3 C milk

1 C cornmeal

1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp butter

1/4 C Grana Padano

- Toast pinenuts in a dry pan until golden - combine toasted pinenuts in a food processor with Kalamata olives, garlic clove and Manchego cheese - pulse until 50/50 chunky/smooth - mix with 250g of Ricotta and set aside

- In a small bowl, with a spoon, mix 'Nduja and remaining 250g Ricotta until smooth

- In a large microwave safe bowl, whisk water, milk, cornmeal and salt - microwave in 1-minute intervals, whisking between each minute until thick - about 6 minutes - add butter and Grana Padano - stir to combine - voila! Microwaved polenta!

- spread a thin layer of polenta in greased cake tin - top with olive pesto/Ricotta mix - top with another layer of polenta - top with 'Nduja/Ricotta Mix - top with another layer of polenta - leave yourself enough 'Nduja/Ricotta mix to 'frost' the outside of the cake

- place cake tin in fridge to cool/set one hour - flip cake onto plate and 'frost' with remaining 'Nduja/Ricotta - can be served warm or cold

***'Nduja is a SPICY spreadable salami made in Calabria, Italy. I ordered mine from Bottega Nicastro in Ottawa!

White Polenta, Porcini-Port Sauce, Gorgonzola, Pancetta Crisp

I still remember the best polenta I've ever eaten. It was Natal Day, 2010 and I was invited to Maurizio and Stephanie's house for a BBQ. I can vividly recall the beautifully laid outdoor table - the pretty light-purple Italian tablecloth - platters of food set-out, waiting to be enjoyed - guests mingling with flutes of Prosecco in their hands. I wandered through the backyard in the dusky orange glow of the setting sun, to Maurizio at the helm of the grill, turning fat golden squares of white polenta. Caramel coloured and crispy on the outside - fluffy, delicate and white on the inside - I knew that this was something special.

Since that day, I've scanned the shelves at the grocery stores hoping to find white cornmeal. I gave up, thinking that yellow would continue to be my only option. And then, last week, out of the blue, something caught my eye on a lower shelf at Sobey's. Goya's Masarepa White Corn Meal - had I finally found what I had been looking for? The answer is yes.

Now, on a side note, it's no secret that I love bacon - in fact I've become somewhat notorious amongst family, friends and co-workers. I can't help it. I love, not only the flavour of bacon, but pork in general - ham, prosciutto, pancetta, pork tenderloin, porchetta - the list goes on. I decided that this year, instead of always making someone else's recipe and blogging about it, I wanted to make up my own recipes - and I wanted to start the New Year off right with a post that includes my most beloved ingredient.

This recipe is not for the faint of heart, however, it is a rich flavourful dish that is EASY to make - a great appetizer that will definitely impress your friends the next time it's your turn for a dinner party!!

Polenta with Porcini Port Sauce, Gorgonzola and Pancetta (serves 8 - 20 minutes)

3 Cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1 Cup instant (pre-cooked) white polenta

2 Tbsp butter

Grated Parmigiano (optional)

~ Boil water and salt - add polenta in thin steady stream whisking entire time - whisk one minute - remove from heat - add butter and Parmigiano - cover cookie sheet with Saran - spread polenta onto cookie sheet to about 1/2 inch thickness - cool

Sauce

1.5 Cups 35% Whipping Cream

3 oz Port (I use Private Stock - it's cheap and it tastes amazing in sauces)

2 Handfuls of dried Porcini mushrooms

1-2 Cups of boiling water

2 oz Gorgonzola + extra for garnish

salt and pepper to taste

8 Pancetta slices, cooked crispy

~ in a small bowl, just cover dried mushrooms with boiling water to reconstitute - let sit about 10 minutes

~ pour whipping cream into small saucepan - bring to a light boil - add Port and 3 oz of the mushroom water - bring to a light boil - add mushrooms and Gorgonzola - stir occasionally until Gorgonzola is melted then let sit without stirring until bubbly, thick and toffee-coloured - season with salt and pepper to taste

~ while your sauce is reducing you can cut your polenta into any shape you like - I used a round biscuit cutter. You can either pan-sear, grill or bake your polenta, or you can serve it cool. Top with sauce - garnish with small bit of Gorgonzola and a pancetta crisp. Serve.