I’ve been cooking so much lately, it’s hard to keep up with all the pictures I’m taking and stories I’m collecting. Well, not stories really, but spontaneous recipes built around farmer’s market ingredients. I share Meg’s sentiment that the farmer’s market is surprisingly expensive, but I find that there are ways around it. For example, the other night instead of buying expensive tomatoes I bought broccoli and made this for dinner:
That’s penne with broccoli in anchovy garlic sauce, adapted from Marcella Hazan. You boil the broccoli ’til it’s tender, lift it out with a spider and then boil the pasta in the same salted water. Meanwhile, in a saute pan you cook garlic, red pepper flakes and a few anchovies (3 or 4) in hot oil. The anchovies will fall apart at which point you could add white wine, if you had any on hand, or add the pasta cooking water. I added some pasta cooking water, the pan sizzled, and then in went the broccoli followed by the al dente pasta. You finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, then top with cheese and that’s dinner.
Last night, I surprised myself and assembled this beauty:
That’s fennel and onion ragu served over polenta. Clearly, watching Molto Mario every day on Tivo is paying off: this dish is a direct result of my studies. (It does feel like you’re in cooking school when you watch it as regularly as I do.)
The big epiphany with this dish is just how ridiculously easy it is to make polenta. I had instant polenta and even the big Italian gurus on TV (in addition to Mario, Lydia Bastianich, for example) say it’s all right to use instant polenta once in a while. Most recipes I’ve read have you cook the polenta in chicken stock, but last night I only had water. So I filled a pot with water, brought it to a boil, added a big splash of salt, a drop of oil and then I began whisking in the instant polenta. When it became thick (approximately a 1 to 3 ratio of polenta to water) I continued to whisk for three minutes, put the lid on, and got on with my ragu.
For the ragu, I had a leftover fennel bulb from cooking with Kirk earlier in the day for my book. I sliced the fennel into thick chunks, then sliced an onion into thick chunks. I put olive oil in a saute pan, heated it for a minute, then added the onion and fennel without adding any salt: I wanted it to retain its shape, not to break down so quick. Without moving it, I allowed it to brown and after a few minutes I did the flippy pan thing and saw nice brown color. I kept sauteing and when it was brown all over I added salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and then a few canned tomatoes (3 or four from a can). I also, spontaneously, added red wine. That’s a great feeling, when you grab things left and right and add them to the pot.
While that cooked down, I chopped the fennel fronds and added them, along with lots of parmesan cheese, to the polenta. Dinner was ready in 20 minutes–polenta on a plate, ragu on top–and I felt like a guru myself. Garnish with remaining fennel fronds and some parmesan, and not only am I a guru: I’m a hot guru.
And that’s what I call easy living.