March 23, 2010
My friends have often heard from me how I am always so interested in increasing the variety of foods in my diet. This is true especially of grains. Where I grew up, in the Punjabi heartland, we ate wheat as our staple food and when we said staple, we really meant it. Wheat was eaten three times a day as phulkas, parathas and pooris. It was incorporated in snacks as mathri and in desserts as halwa. Granted there were other grains that we ate some times. I mean nothing could be more Punjabi than saron da saag te makki di roti, and Sunday afternoons were incomplete without rajma chaval (kidney beans with rice). But, all considered, it was really Team Wheat all the way. Anyway, so lately, now that I am the mistress of my kitchen in the true sense, I try to adhere to a mixed grain diet on a regular basis to ensure that we get a spectrum of nutrients and not just certain sub-sections.
One of the grains that I like to use is corn. I am aware that Michael Pollan has pointed out that it is in half of the bulk of the supermarket inventory, but I like it in the form of polenta (which is essentially a savory mush, mostly made from corn meal) as it is whole grail and is not a highly processed form of corn. Also, since I use many other grains in my diet now such as oats, barley, pearl millet, quinoa, shama millet etc., I actually feel good about eating a little bit of maize as well. (There, I defended Zea Mays)
Polenta originates in Italy and the dish that I am telling you about today has been given a doubly hearty Italian flavor by using polenta as a base for Neapolitan style pizza with rich marinara sauce, basil and, the star of the show, buffalo mozzarella. And, as my dear little sis would love to know, this is a gluten-free dish.
For the base:
3/4 cup cornmeal (I use the coarse ground yellow variety)
2 1/2 cup water
Salt and black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Some dried herbs like oregano, thyme and/or rosemary (optional)
2 tbsps grated cheese like parmigiano reggiano (optional)
3/4 cup marinara sauce (or any other tomato based sauce. I sometime make some at home but for this time, I used a wild mushroom pasta sauce which was easy and delicious)
4 oz buffalo mozzarella
a handful of fresh basil leaves
Heat water. Once it comes to a rolling boil, add corn meal to it and stir occasionally till it thickens. If you are using dried herbs, add them at this time as well.
You will have to stir more, almost continuously, towards the end. Be careful not to splatter yourself with polenta as it starts to thicken.
Once it becomes a little hard to stir it, it is time to take the polenta off the heat. At this point, stir in the olive oil and grated cheese (if using), and season it will salt and pepper.
Pour the polenta into greased baking pan or an ungreased pyrex dish and spread it out with a spoon so that the top is somewhat even. (A thickness of 1/2 inch is good. I kept this pizza thin because of the delicate toppings. When I am making it with hearty toppings such as onions and green peppers, I keep it a little thicker.)
Keep it to cool and set in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. I usually make it the night before I need to make it and keep it in the fridge till I use it the next day.
Preheat the oven to 400 F
Spread the marinara sauce thickly on the pizza and spread out the basil leaves and slices of buffalo mozarella on top of the polenta pizza base.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes, till the cheese has softened and the polenta is heated through.
Your delicious polenta pizza is ready to be devoured. You can use the same method to make the pizza for any other toppings of your preference. Enjoy!
When I first came to the United States as a grad student, my university paired me with a host family who had generously volunteered to help and orient a new foreign student in their city. The Taubes were a wonderful family and I enjoyed learning about the American life through them.
It was at my host family’s place that I had eggplant rollups for the first time. Till then I had only had eggplant, or baingan as we call it in India, in the form of the fire-roasted Bhartha, or the stir-fried Aloo-Baingan. This new dish was a revelation for me as I had never realized that our Baingan Raja could taste so sophisticated, yet earthy at the same time.
Many years later, as I was remembering that wonderful taste, I wrote an email to my hostess and asked her if she could share the recipe with me and here is the recipe that she sent to me. Thanks Michelle! 🙂
“We slice the eggplant length wise about 1/4 inch thick then brush it with olive oil and add garlic and herbs if you like such as rosemary, thyme or oregano. Then put it on a baking sheet and broil it briefly on each side until soft but be careful not to burn. Place a piece of oil packed sundried tomato, a basil leaf and some blue cheese on one end and then roll it up. A toothpick to secure it is optional.”
I sometimes substitute the bleu cheese with goat cheese. Any soft cheese with a strong flavor will do. Also remember to season the eggplant with salt and black pepper before broiling it.