Sunday, October 30, 2011

Polenta with Spinach, Raisins, and Pine Nuts

This elegant dish combines two of our favorite recipes - our Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts and our Pan-Grilled Polenta Rounds. Baby spinach is sauteed in garlic-infused olive oil with toasted pine nuts and wine-soaked raisins, and then served over lightly toasted polenta slices.

The result is impressive enough for a special holiday feast, but easy enough to make anytime.


1/4 cup raisins, black or golden
1/4 cup white wine (or water, if you don’t want to use wine)
1 tube of prepared polenta (plain)
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound fresh baby spinach
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In the microwave or on the stove, heat the wine almost to a boil. Remove from the heat. Add the raisins to the wine. Let the raisins soak in the hot wine for about 15 minutes. Drain the raisins, and discard the wine. Place the drained raisins on paper towels to dry.

Cut the polenta into 8 slices.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Add the polenta slices, and cook, turning once, until heated through and lightly browned on both sides. Keep warm until ready to use.

Meanwhile, rinse the spinach, but do not dry. The water clinging to the spinach will help to steam it during the cooking process.

In a separate large skillet, saute the spinach over medium-high heat just until wilted. Transfer the wilted spinach to a colander and set aside.

Wipe any spinach liquid from the skillet, and then heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, and saute for a minute or two until golden and fragrant. Do not let the garlic burn. When the garlic is golden, remove it from the pan and discard.

Add the pine nuts to the garlic-infused oil in the skillet, and saute over medium heat for a few minutes until the pine nuts are lightly golden.

Add the raisins to the skillet and saute for another minute. Be careful not to let the pine nuts burn.

Return the spinach to the skillet, along with salt and pepper to taste.

Saute over medium heat for another 2-3 minutes to reheat the spinach and blend all the flavors.

To serve, arrange the polenta slices on serving plate(s). Top with the spinach mixture.

-- 4 servings (2 polenta slices per serving)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pan-Grilled Polenta Rounds

I always keep a tube or two of polenta in my pantry. Slicing it up and lightly browning the slices on the stove results in an easy and delicious side dish - a delightful alternative to potatoes, rice, or pasta.

It's also good as a meal base. Just top the browned polenta rounds with stewed or sauteed veggies, or cheese, or a hearty sauce.


1 tube of prepared polenta
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Cut the polenta into 8 round slices. Sprinkle each polenta slice on both sides with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Add the polenta slices, and cook, turning once, until heated through and lightly browned on both sides.

-- 4 servings (2 polenta slices per serving)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gorgonzola and Pear Pizza with Caramelized Onions (12-inch)

This recipe was inspired by a pizza I enjoyed at a Philadelphia bistro many years ago. The bistro is no longer there, but I never forgot the pizza. So recently I decided to recreate the pizza, and the result was very much like what I remembered.

The sweet-savory flavor of the caramelized onion base nicely complements the fresh pear and the creamy, pungent gorgonzola.

Be sure to slice the pear as thinly as possible, overlapping the slices as needed to fit them all on the pizza.


1 Basic All-Purpose Pizza Crust (12-inch) or Thin Pizza Crust (12-inch) (or your favorite 12-inch pizza crust)
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, halved and then thinly sliced into 1/2 rings
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 fresh pear, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare the pizza crust and press into a 12-inch pizza pan, or form it into a 12-inch round on a baking sheet, with the edges slightly thicker to contain the toppings.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and saute the onion for 2 or 3 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Turn the heat down to low, season with salt and pepper, and cook for another 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is sweet and golden.

Spread the onion evenly over the pizza crust. Sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella. Arrange the pear slices in a single layer on top of the mozzarella. Sprinkle evenly with the gorgonzola.

Bake for 12-18 minutes, until golden.

Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before slicing

-- 3-4 servings

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Portobello Sandwiches with Roasted Peppers and Arugula

The idea for these sandwiches came to me as I was browsing the produce section of my favorite grocery store. The portobello mushrooms looked good. I knew I had a jar of roasted peppers at home that I needed to use up. And arugula was on sale.

I was very hungry and wanted something hearty, so I decided to combine all of those ingredients into a sandwich. The arugula is tossed with good olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper, to create a simple arugula salad to top the sandwiches. The arugula salad provides a delightful green contrast to the richness of the mushrooms and roasted peppers.


4 portobello mushrooms, each about 4 to 5 inches in diameter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup roasted red bell peppers, cut into julienne slices
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup baby arugula, tightly packed
2 submarine/hoagie rolls, each about 8 to 10 inches long (or similar lengths of baguette)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Remove the stems from the portobellos, and discard the stems. Using a spoon, scrape the dark gills from the underside of each portobello. Discard the gills. Cut the portobello caps into 1/4-inch-wide slices.

In a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, and the portobello slices. Toss gently, and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes.

After the portobellos have marinated, heat a medium-size skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the portobello mixture, and saute for 5-6 minutes, until the portobellos are soft and most of the rendered mushroom liquid has evaporated.

Add the roasted bell pepper slices to the portobellos, along with salt and pepper to taste. Saute for 3-5 minutes to heat the peppers and blend all the flavors. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the balsamic vinegar, along with salt and pepper to taste. Add the arugula, and toss gently to coat well.

Preheat broiler. Split the rolls open, but do not cut them all the way through. Lay them open on a broiler-proof pan. Broil until lightly toasted. Remove from heat.

Fill each roll with half of the portobello mixture, and then top evenly with the dressed arugula.

-- 2 servings

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mock Chicken with Dijon-Cognac Cream Sauce

This was adapted (and vegetarianized) from a chicken recipe in The Frog/Commissary Cookbook, which features recipes from some restaurants here in Philadelphia that were very popular during the city's restaurant renaissance of the 1970s and 1980s.

For the photo above, I used Gardein Chick'n Scallopini, which I found at my local Whole Foods Market.

This recipe also works well with Gardein Chick'n Filets, Morningstar Farms Grillers Chik'n Veggie Patties, or Lightlife Smart Cutlets, which may be more easily found at major supermarket chains.

The original recipe calls for brandy, but I prefer the fuller flavor of a good cognac. You can substitute brandy for the cognac if you wish, and it will still be good.

I like to serve this recipe with our Broccoli in Shallot Butter, as shown in the photo above, and perhaps some rice.


2 mock chicken breast portions or 2 servings of unbreaded mock chicken patties or tenders, thawed if frozen
1/4 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Mix the flour, salt, and pepper. Toss the "chicken" pieces in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess.

In a medium skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the butter along with the "chicken", and saute until the "chicken" is lightly golden on all sides. Remove the "chicken" from the skillet and set aside.

Add the shallots, vermouth, and brandy to the same skillet. Turn the heat up to high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half.

Whisk in the mustard, then whisk in the cream, along with salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat to medium, and cook, whisking occasionally, for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is the consistency of a light gravy.

Add the "chicken" back into the skillet. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, to blend the flavors. If the sauce seems too thick, add some water, a tablespoon at a time, until it is the desired consistency.

Transfer the "chicken" to serving plates. Top with the sauce, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

-- 2 servings

Broccoli in Shallot Butter

I usually cook my broccoli in olive oil, but now and then I crave a change of pace and make this recipe. The sweetness of the butter and the mild onion flavor of the shallots complement the broccoli beautifully.

This recipe doesn't use too much butter, so it still fits well into a healthy Mediterranean diet when used in moderation.


4 cups fresh broccoli florets (approx. 1 pound)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced shallot
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Blanch the broccoli by boiling in water until crisp-tender, about 3-6 minutes. The cooking time will depend on the size of the florets. (Alternatively, you can microwave the broccoli with 1/4 cup of water for a similar length of time until crisp-tender.) Rinse the cooked broccoli under cold water to stop the cooking, and drain.

In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute for 2-3 minutes, until the shallot is soft and fragrant.

Add the broccoli to the skillet, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Saute over medium to medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes to to heat the broccoli and blend the flavors.

-- 2-3 servings

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chunky Tomato-Basil Sauce

This is one of my favorite pasta sauces to make when fresh basil is in season. Even off-season, fresh basil is now available in many supermarkets, so you can enjoy this light and tasty sauce any time of year.


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes, either regular or petite-cut
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, shredded or coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, saute the garlic in the olive oil over medium-low heat, just until the garlic becomes fragrant. Do not let the garlic burn.

Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, salt, and pepper. Raise heat to medium high and bring the mixture just to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Use within 2-3 days, or freeze for future use.

-- Approximately 3 1/2 cups of sauce