Overcoming my Disdain for Polenta

polenta with telemea and spinach

How can something so lush taste so… blah? Looks can be deceiving. If I were a Brit, I’d probably describe the flavor of polenta as subtle. But I’m not and thus I won’t sugarcoat it: cornmeal, as most cereals by nature, is bland with a capital B.

As a friend smartly put it, polenta does not inspire superfandom in most people. It’s rather a love-hate relationship and indeed, no matter how much I wanted to like it, I was always quite underwhelmed by this dish. I gave chance after chance to it, and it let me down repeatedly.

It’s because I’ve expected it to be something it simply is not. Truth is, cornmeal doesn’t especially taste of anything but corn. Make peace with that. But, flavor and polenta are not mutually exclusive at all. In fact, cooked cornmeal only comes into its own when prepared with loads of seasoning.

Polenta is a great vehicle for flavours, a neutral background to something more palatable. Actually, eating it without any “disguise” would be ludicrous in my world. (There must be people out there who like it as-is. If you’re one, I’m not here to judge! 🙂 )

I actually came to appreciate the strengths of this simple, rustic dish. You should throw your apprehensions aside too (if any) and let the simplistic beauty of this Northern-Italian rural staple shine through. I hope this version I made the other day for a light lunch will inspire you to add cornmeal to your pantry!

Although it is basically very simple, there are a few tips and tricks when making polenta. Don’t fall for the “you absolutely must use a wooden spoon and you must stir in only one direction” BS though.

First of all, a 4:1 water-cornmeal ratio seems like the way to go. It’s also vital to add the cornmeal slowly to the salted, boiling water while stirring constantly. Otherwise, you’ll end up with lumps.

After that, there’s no need to continue stirring like a maniac, but more frequently than “from time to time” should be necessary as polenta has a habit of catching in pans. In any case, you need to keep an eye on it throughout.

When all the liquid is sucked up, the grits cohere into a thick mass and the polenta starts pulling away from the side of the pan as you stir, it’s ready.

And now it’s time to add the oomph! First, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Next, crushed garlic: as much as you think you can handle, and then some more. Now’s the turn of blanched and roughly chopped spinach. Since cheese is always a good idea, stir in a pile of grated parmesan or Grana Padano as well. Finally, you can either add in a tablespoon or two of butter, or drizzle generously with extra-virgin olive oil before serving.

polenta with telemea and spinach

polenta with telemea and spinach

Have you spotted it’s neither one of those cheeses in my photos? Good eye! It’s telemea, a fresh cheese from Romania that’s matured in brine. Somewhat like feta, but the texture is different – this is more on the crumbly side rather than creamy. It’s most commonly made of cow’s milk, but partly buffalo milk products are sometimes available, a real delicacy.

Whenever I’m traveling in the region or know someone who’s headed there, I buy straight from this producer located at picturesque Torockószentgyörgy (Colțești) village. I had the good fortune to taste many of their products and they are so so good! I’m telling you, things like 50% sour cream are what dreams are made of.

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

Friday Finds

Got the first basket of peaches from my parents’ garden this week. Apricots, peaches and nectarines are the ultimate summer fruits on my list. Check out these beautiful recipes while I stuff myself silly with the bounty.

Rosé Poached Peaches with Whipped Coconut Cream via Camille Styles, recipe by Alison Cayne of Haven’s Kitchen:

rose poached peaches

Grilled Peaches with Vanilla Ice Cream by Gaby of What’s Gaby Cooking:

grilled peaches

Ginger Peach Crumble by Ali of Gimme Some Oven:

peach crumble

Peach Pie by Megan of Hint of Vanilla:

peach pie

Peach Cream Scones by Laura of Tutti Dolci:

peach scones

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

Sour Cherry Slab Pie

sour cherry slab pie

Pie. One of world’s favorite desserts, an affaire de coeur no matter where you live. Yet it only cleared on me know that I’m writing this post, that slab pies are quite under the radar over at your end in America. That needs to change!

When we use the word pite (pron. pee-tech) in Hungary, 9 out of 10 times it comes in rectangular form. Ditch your circular dish for once and try baking pie in a shallow, rimmed baking pan. It feeds more mouths with less mess ’n fuss, and with the bar outfit you get more crust too. Sensible. Yes, that’s the word for slab pies.

Side by side, sweet quark and sour cherry filled slab pies must be the most popular around here; almost every house in our neighborhood has a sour cherry tree in the front yard. My family moved from the capital to the suburbs some 20 years ago so ours is old now, but we still get a steady supply of the tart fruit year in, year out.

And so it pains me to see how my parents are the only ones there taking the time and effort to harvest the crimson-to-near-black delicacy when these are so sought after at the farmers’ market. Fresh sour cherries don’t show up often in stores as their shelf life is quite short: they bruise easily. That said, packages from the frozen goods section of the supermarket is your next best option.

More acidic and having greater nutritional benefits than sweet cherry, the sour type also holds its shape better when baked. And there’s no need to restrict lovely sour cherries to just pie either! Dry, can, freeze, or make jam from a batch to enjoy later in many kinds of sweet and savory dishes.

sour cherry slab pie

In this recipe, a little cinnamon goes a long way, and a woven lattice-top is making the pie visually pleasing. This crust recipe works with any berry or stone fruit that’s in season near you. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or cold after a good sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Yet another reason to love pie!

Sour Cherry Slab Pie

  • Time: 40 + 40 min
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

The #1 summer pie in Hungary, coming in a sheet pan.

Ingredients

For the crust:

500 g AP flour

250 g cold butter, cut to cubes

pinch of salt

2 tbsp sugar

½ tsp baking powder

1 medium egg + 1 for eggwash

1-2 tbsp sour cream

For the filling:

1 kg sour cherry, washed and pitted

4 tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 packet vanilla flavor pudding mix (not the instant variety) or 40 g / 2 ½ tbsp cornstarch + 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Mix pitted sour cherries with sugar, set aside.
  2. For the crust, in a medium bowl mix flour with salt, sugar and baking powder.
  3. Working quickly, cut in cold butter until rough crumbles are formed. Do not overwork, clumps should not yet collect.
  4. Add egg, plus 1 to 2 tbsp sour cream and work with your hands until dough comes together. Wrap in cling foil and refrigerate while you make the filling.
  5. For the filling, drain the juice from the previously sugared sour cherries. If it’s less than 300 ml (1 ¼ cup), add water. Mix juice thoroughly with the pudding mix or cornstarch (watch out for lumps).
  6. Heat mixture in a medium pot, stirring continuously, until it starts to thicken. Turn heat off, add sour cherries and cinnamon. Mix well, set aside.
  7. Preheat oven to 180°C / 356°F. Divide chilled dough to 2 equal parts, roll out one half on a lightly floured surface to the size of your pan. Gently lift and fit dough into the pan.
  8. Pour filling over dough (no need to pre-bake), and spread evenly.
  9. Roll out remaining dough, cut strips with a knife or pizza cutter. Weave lattice top, wash with the other egg.
  10. Bake until crust is golden, about 40 min. Enjoy!

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Love,

Fruzsi

Friday Finds

Summer sales are raging on! If you haven’t blown your entire paycheck already, take a look at my picks from Zara Home:

(Please note that sale items and prices may vary country by country)

Rope door bumper:

zara home rope door bumper

Striped pouff with pompoms:

zara home striped pouff with pompoms

Round teak tray:

zara home round teak tray

Basket with handles and zigzag design:

zara home basket with handles and zigzag design

Bedside table in the shape of a wooden bowl:

zara home wooden bowl bedside table

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

All images © Zara Home

Baked Ricotta, the Appetizer You’re About to Fall For

baked ricotta

When I told you guys my plans for at-home cheesemaking and the culinary course I’ve attended, I said I’d report the results – if any – of my attempts. Well, I’m here to make good on that promise, and I’m topping it off with a recipe which defines easy entertaining.

So, ricotta. I was surprised to learn that behind the posh Italian name (simply meaning re-cooked by the way), you’ll find the very same dairy product we call orda, urda or vurda in Central-Eastern Europe. It’s a creamy, neutral tasting fresh cheese made from whey, the leftover of cheesemaking.

I don’t exactly know why, but only a few supermarkets carry it around here and it’s quite expensive for what it is. But good news! Ricotta is easy to make at home and a great secondary use for the whey which still has a lot of the goodness of milk in it, and would therefore be a waste to discard of.

For this fresh cheese, all you need to do is heat the whey from 5 litres (about 1.3 gallons) of milk to 85-92°C (right below boiling) and add 5 g (1 tsp) citric acid. Turn the heat off and wait for the proteins to coagulate: after a few minutes you’ll notice tiny “flakes” floating in the greenish-yellowish liquid. Pour through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and wait a few hours for the curds to strain. This amount of whey yields around 1 cup of fresh ricotta.

I like eating it as-is, but you may find this dairy to be a little bland. That means it’s a blank page and you can flavor the sh*t out of it! Wether you make or buy your ricotta, the following cheese number is a hugely versatile dish you can whip up in a blink of an eye even ahead of time, and play around with spices and other additions to suit your fancy.

Rich, creamy and indulgent, baked ricotta will rise nicely in the baking dish. Like a fancy soufflé, just easier – no need to worry about your folding technique. Only a few ingredients, but a gourmet addition to your repertoire.

baked ricotta

baked ricotta

Your baked ricotta will somewhat collapse after taking it out the oven but this is only natural, the steam holding it up evaporates. Serve warm on fresh baguette or as a dip with crackers.

baked ricotta

Here I made it with basil and oregano, but since then a few other variations emerged from my oven: sage and lemon zest, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic, rosemary and thyme… Can’t seem to get tired of this! 🙂

Baked Ricotta

  • Time: 5 + 40 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A versatile, creamy cheese number. Makes 4 ramekins.

Ingredients

500 g (2 cups) fresh ricotta

2 medium eggs

½ cup grated parmesan

pinch of salt and black pepper

any variety of fresh or dried herbs to taste

Directions

  1. Grease a medium baking dish or 4 ramekins with a few drops of olive oil, preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F
  2. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta with eggs, salt, pepper and parmesan until combined with a fork.
  3. Fold in herbs of your choice, fill ramekins 2/3 full.
  4. Bake until “soufflé” has risen and set, top starting to turn golden (about 40 min).

Love,

Fruzsi

Friday Finds

What better way to say farewell to June, than gelato?

Chocolate brownie ice cream by Cindy of Hungry Girl por Vida:

chocolate ice cream

Among London’s best, image via British Vogue:

ice cream cones on marble

No churn tiramisu ice cream by Sarah of Broma Bakery:

tiramisu ice cream

Avocado and lime ice cream by Sneh of Cook Republic:

avocado and lime ice cream

Blackberry chocolate chip ice cream by Liz of Floating Kitchen:

blackberry chocolate chip ice cream

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

Catalonia Meets Hajdúság in My Kitchen: Chickpea Stew

chickpeat stew

Don’t know about you, but if there’s something I don’t feel like doing when temperatures are in the 30s °C-wise, it’s standing next to a hot stove for hours on end. Just hand me an ice-cold radler instead, will you.

It was scorching lately all right so I reached back to one of my favorite one-pot-wonder recipes, a real fusion dish combining elements of Catalan and Hungarian culinary traditions. My husband and I love this hearty, spicy, soupy chickpea stew with spinach and Debreceni.

Debreceni kolbász (pron. kohl-baahs), or Debreczener (sometimes also referred to as Hungarian wiener), a lightly smoked, beef and pork sausage seasoned with salt, black pepper, paprika powder and garlic distinct of the Hajdúság region, holds the status of Hungarikum.

According to the Act of Hungarian national values, Hungarikum is a collective term indicating a value worthy of distinction and highlighting within a unified system of qualification, classification and registry. In other words, something that is inimitably, uniquely and distinctly Hungarian (you can learn more about the list of Hungarikums here).

I use Dedreceni in this recipe for obvious reasons – national pride for one, and because a good debreceni is hella delicious. In Catalonia I guess a chorizo or botifarra would be the way to go. Cooking the sausages in the same pan you’re going to make the stew in not only saves the tasty juices but also lets you end up with less dirty dishes.

Probably originated in Turkey, nutrient-rich chickpeas, or garbanzo beans were transported throughout the Mediterranean by the Phoenicians. They are a staple in Spanish cuisine, in fact there are few places where they are more popular: garbanzos appear daily in cocidos (one-pot meals) and potajes (thick soups).

Chickpeas are slow food – the dry legumes are soaked in water overnight, then simmered slowly until tender, about three hours. But here’s a shortcut for you: buy the canned variety!

The base of this dish, like many others in Catalonia is a sofrito, a thick sauce made with sautéed onions and tomatoes. Second shortcut: all hail canned passata di pomodoro. I then flavor it with salt, black pepper, bay leaves, rosemary, garlic and a little chili powder to make it appeal to local taste buds even more. Tossed a handful of fresh spinach leaves in there too, because why not.

Let simmer for a few minutes, and it’s ready to eat with a slice of rustic, toasted bread. Hmmm. This dish is a no-fuss no-brainer, the type of quick and easy meal you need when you have neither the time nor the willpower for anything too sophisticated. It is also very rich and tasty, and even better the day after! I can tell a win-win situation when I see one. Now, excuse me while I sit back with that radler.

Chickpeat Stew

  • Time: 40 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Hearty Catalonian-inspired stew with a Hungarian touch. Serves 4.

Ingredients

300 g package of debreceni, or any other hot dog or sausage type you like

can of chickpeas, drained

2 cups passata di pomodoro

handful of spinach leaves

1 large onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

1 twig of fresh rosemary or ½ tbsp dried

chili powder to taste

1 tbsp sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

olive oil

rustic bread slices, toasted

Directions

  1. Cut sausages in a diamond pattern.
  2. Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat, cook sausages until crispy and browned. Take sausages out of pan and set aside.
  3. Sautée onion in the remaining juices from the sausages (add another tbsp of olive oil if needed).
  4. When onion is softened, add garlic, bay leaves, salt, black pepper, chili powder and rosemary. Stir and let sizzle for another minute for spices to release their aroma.
  5. Add passata, sugar and chickpeas. Let simmer for 10 minutes, add spinach and simmer for another 10 min until sauce is somewhat thickened, stirring occasionally.
  6. Serve hot with the sausages and a slice of toasted bread on the side. Enjoy!

What are your go-to recipes when you want to whip up something quick yet satisfying?

Love,

Fruzsi

Friday Finds

Summer sale season is here! Grab your credit card and check out my top picks from H&M Home, one of my favorite sources for affordable home decor. Get these items now for less before they sell out! No need to step out in the heat even: your spoils will be delivered right to your doorstep.

(*Sale items and prices may vary country by country, please check your local H&M site!)

Stiched Bedspread:

H&M stiched bedspread

Jute Laundry Basket:

H&M jute laundry basket

Washed Linen Bathrobe:

H&M washed linen bathrobe

Washed Linen Duvet Cover Set:

H&M washed linen duvet cover set

Jacquard-patterned Bath Towel:

H&M jacquard-patterned bath towel

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

 

All images © H&M

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

St. John’s Magic: Greenwalnut Liqueur

greenwalnut liqueur

Sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still): the two Latin words solstice derives from. Celebrating the summer solstice, or Midsummer, is originally a pagan feast; June 24th was designated later as the holiday of Christian martyr St. John the Baptist.

Some pagan rituals continue to live on in Europe – during the eve preceding St. John’s Nativity bonfires are lit to protect against evil spirits, for witches and demons are said to roam freely during the shortest night of the year. It’s also believed that treasures are waiting for the lucky finder, and I believe green walnuts are among the prizes.

In Roman times walnuts were worshipped as Jupiter’s plant, even the gods dining on them. This time of year they are in their unripe stage, still green and immature, kernels just starting to harden. Perfect for making a traditional aperitif popular throughout the Mediterranean: greenwalnut liqueur.

I’ve first encountered this aromatic drink at the Croatian seaside where it’s called orahovac. It is available commercially, but everyone has a cousin, an uncle or neighbour making it by the gallon, and Dalmatians being hospitable as they are, you simply can’t go home from a holiday without a plastic bottle filled with the murky liquid as farewell gift/souvenir.

Nocino in Italy, nocello when in Spain, liqueur de noix vertes in France are the names to look for. These are basically the same drink, although the spices added vary from region to region, from family to family.

Folklore has it that for the best greenwalnut liqueur, barefoot virgins are to gather an uneven number of dew-laden green walnuts, which should then be left to dry by the bonfires of St. John’s Eve. Riiight… I decided to go with the uneven figure thing from these criteria and hope for the best.

Actually, making rich and intense greenwalnut liqueur is not difficult at all, but does require some patience. When I say some, what I mean is you’re supposed to wait 40 days first, and even after that you shouldn’t drink your elixir before November as it needs to mature.

If you somehow managed to hide it forget about it until late autumn though, besides the spicy and warming taste, perks allegedly also include fending off evil spirits of the night, remedy for eczema and curing sore throat. Different strokes for different folks, right?

If all this magic, tradition and benefits are not reason enough for you to give greenwalnut liqueur a go, fine, but know that the aforementioned evil spirits will hunt you down. Just sayin’. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and set about doing it! Not just figuratively, as the walnuts stain everything they touch. It’s highly recommended to wear rubber gloves and an apron.

Greenwalnut Liqueur

  • Time: looong
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Warm and spicy, ink-black liqueur infused with green walnuts from the Mediterranean.

Ingredients

25 green, soft, unripe walnuts

750 ml vodka (or other 40% alc/vol or 80-proof, neutral tasting alcoholic beverage)

1 ½ cups sugar

optional: cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, vanilla pod, citrus peel, coffee beans

Directions

  1. Cut walnuts in half or quarters (wear an apron and gloves to avoid stains)
  2. Place sugar, walnuts and spices (if using) in a jar twice the capacity of the volume of the liquid, pour alcohol over ingredients.
  3. Close jar tightly, place on a sunny windowsill for 40 days. Gently shake every now and then to mix. Liquid will eventually turn from transparent to brownish, getting darker and darker over time.
  4. After 40 days, strain liqueur, bottle up and let mature until fall.

Salute! Salut! ¡Salud! Živjeli!

Love,

Fruzsi

Friday Finds

The symbol of peace and victory, graceful olive branches add such a rustic charm to any decor with their subtle, silvery hue. Would you just look at these dreamy tablescapes!

Photo & styling by Karen Mordechai of Sunday Suppers:

olive branch on napkin

Floral design by Lovely Leaves, photo by Mint Photography:

plate with olive branch and ribbon

Floral design by Petals and Hedges, photo by Hannah Hudson Photography:

golden plates with menu and olive branch

Photo by Jen Huang:

rose gold flatwear

Design by Rock Paper Scissors Events, photo by Anna Roussos:

gold flatwear

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi