Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dinner Party #1

Even although I'm not completely unpacked and situated in my new house - I did work overtime to get the kitchen and dining area into shape so I would be able to cook with ease and entertain  comfortably.    There are a few things that have recently rekindled my enthusiasm for the stove: the new Ottolenghi/Tamimi book, "Jeruslaem" - about which I've already waxed rhapsodic in my last post, and the jar of polenta given to me by my sister, Laura for Christmas.  "It took 9 months to make" she said.   Hmmm.   A week or so later I asked for a more detailed explanation.

"I bought the  seeds from Seeds of Italy - the sole US distributor of Franchi seeds, Italy's oldest seed company.    I sowed the seeds in early June, harvested them just before frost. I let them dry on the stalk in the garden, but after harvest, spread the ears out in the attic to dry for another month.  Then shucked the ears, rubbed the kernels off the cob, sifted out the chaff, and then ground the kernels in the Vita Mix, a very powerful machine.  I sifted the ground polenta again to get out the pieces that didn't grind fine enough.  The chickens enjoyed those.   All together it was NOT the easy Christmas present  that I was imagining when I bought the seeds in January!"

I couldn't wait to cook the polenta.  It got thick and creamy in a matter of seconds - which does happen quickly if you keep stirring with a whisk as you shower the cornmeal into the boiling water.   Incorporated, NOT cooked.  I exchanged the whisk for a wooden spoon and keep stirring for almost 40 minutes.  It tasted almost like fresh corn custard.

Basic Polenta

Bring 5 cups salted water to a rolling boil.  Slowly add the cornmeal, stirring continuously, first with a whisk then with a wooden paddle or spoon.  As the mixture thickens it will begin to "erupt"; lower the heat to a simmer and continue to stir.  When the mixture is thick and smooth, and begins to pull away from the sides of the pot, it's ready, about 40 minutes.   Add unsalted butter and Parmesan cheese to taste.

I was captivated by "Jerusalem"'s recipe for Roasted chicken with clementines and arak from the moment I saw the title and photograph in the same snapshot.   It turned out to be a very good choice to serve with Nantucket/Hudson polenta (those two whaling towns at it again).  The fennel-fragrant, savory-sweet chicken dish just yearned for the warm, soft pillow of corny mush.
This is the right recipe for now - while there are still clementines in the marketplace.

6 1/2 tablespoons arak, ouzo or Pernod
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons grain mustard
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 large organic or free-range chicken, about 2 3/4 pounds, divided in 8 pieces, or the same weight in skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
4 clementines, unpeeled, cut horizontally into 1/4-inch slices
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
2 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
chopped flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Put the first six ingredients in a large mixing bowl and add 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper.  Whisk well and set aside.
Trim the fennel and cut each bulb in half lengthwise.  Cut each half into 4 wedges.  Add the fennel to the liquids, along with the chicken pieces, clementine slices, thyme, and fennel seeds.  Stir well with your hands, then leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight (skipping the marinating stage is also fine, if you are pressed for time).  I marinated the ingredients overnight - I think it not only helps the flavor  develop but also divides the work time into 2 separate projects making the recipe seem rather easy.  It is.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.  Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a baking sheet large enough to accommodate everything comfortably in a single layer (roughly a 12 by 14 1/2-inch pan); the chicken skin should be facing up.  Once the oven is hot enough, put the pan in the oven and roast for 35 - 45 minutes, until the chicken is colored and cooked through.  Remove from the oven.
Lift the chicken, fennel, and clementines from the pan and arrange on a serving plate; cover and keep warm.  Pour the cooking liquid into a small saucepan, place over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and then simmer until the sauce is reduced by one-third, so you are left with about 1/3 cup.  Pour the hot sauce over the chicken, garnish with some parsley, and serve.
FYI - I eliminated this last step and just served the whole thing straight from the oven in its baking dish.  Might try it the way the authors suggest next time.  Maybe.

SUSANSIMONSAYS: One last recipe from "Jerusalem" and then you'll have to buy your own copy (I've made 4 recipes from the book since I received it as a Christmas gift - and every single one has worked and has been exceptional).
I served Butternut squash & tahini spread  - with Akmak crackers (available at supermarkets) when a few friends came over for drinks the other night.

1 very large butternut squash, about 2 1/2 pounds peeled and cut into chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons light tahini paste
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 small cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon mixed black and white sesame seeds (or just white, if you don't have  black)
1 1/2 teaspoons date syrup
2 teaspoons chopped cilantro (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Spread the squash out in a medium roasting pan.  Pover the olive oil and sprinkle on the cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Mix together well, cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, and roast in the oven for 70 minutes, stirring once during the cooking.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Transfer the squash to a food processor, along with the tahini, yogurt, and garlic.  Roughly pulse so that everything is combined into a coarse paste, without becoming smooth; you can also do this by hand using a fork or potato masher.
Spread the butternut in a wavy pattern over a flat plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds, drizzle over the syrup, and finish with cilantro if using.  I didn't.

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