I can think of few things better to lift your mood and warm your tummy in the midst of a long, unending winter than this meal. Look at this beautiful dish and tell me you’re not hungry:
We tried a new polenta preparation method thanks to Cooks Illustrated which required very little stirring – just slow and low cooking, with a bit of baking soda added to the mix to help break down the cornmeal. I was skeptical, but the polenta was amazingly creamy, and the pan required minimal scrubbing after dinner – a bonus. We topped warm plates of polenta with cherry tomatoes sauteed with olive oil and garlic, a chiffonade of basil and the last of the homemade mozzarella. The mozzarella melted gently into the polenta as we ate, and the juices from the tomato, rich with oil, pepper, and garlic, were just right. This dinner was so good. The only disappointment was that the tomatoes were a bit too, well, tomatoey for Shane’s tastes.
Creamy Parmesan Polenta from Cooks Illustrated (online subscription required)
Sautéed Cherry Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella Topping from Cooks Illustrated (online subscription required)
As I may have mentioned, I worked at Zingerman’s Mail Order over the holidays. While there were (and are!) many mouthwatering products in the catalog, the one thing I fixated on was the home cheesemaking kit. Now, there are simpler and less expensive ways of getting to the same end – like buying the same kit at the Creamery, for example – but this seemed as good a place as any to start.
The cheesemaking process was much easier than I expected, though as I told a friend, I was convinced that it was going to be a total disaster right up until I started stretching the mozzarella. First milk and citric acid are combined over heat, then rennet is added and a lot of stirring is required to separate the milk solids from the liquid. Once separated, the solids are repeatedly heated up, more whey is removed, and then the cheese is stretched and formed into whatever shape you like – a single ball, bocconicini, string cheese, etc. The process is stinky and a little gross, depending on the sensitivity of your nose and stomach. It might take a few days to get the smell out of the microwave, which was used for the later heating steps. But I made cheese! Oh my god!
Dinner, then, was a pizza made with bits and pieces from the fridge, a homemade crust, and my homemade cheese. The crust took forEVER to rise – it is cold and dry, after all, and I think the yeast is a bit old – but had good flavor once it had been rubbed with a bit of rosemary and olive oil. We topped the pizza with a smear of tomato paste, half a head of radicchio, and some thinly sliced pancetta left over from Wednesday’s risotto, then shredded the fresh cheese over the top. About ten minutes of eager anticipation later, we shared the pizza and a bottle of Avec Les Bons Voeux. So good.