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Orange Polenta Cake with Blackberries & Plums


Desserts in the summer should be delightful.  Fresh and vibrant.  I think you get a little more leeway with summer desserts…it can be an unexpected little something to try…so serious expectations.  So I say, run with it.  Try something new, be a little different and surprising!  Polenta cake fits the bill.  Think of this as somewhere in between corn bread and a citrus cake.

(Although I did not get the post up right on time, this cake was inspired by the Daring Cooks August Challenge…credit where credit is due!)

Rachael of pizzarossa was our August 2012 Daring Cook hostess and she challenged us to broaden our knowledge of cornmeal! Rachael provided us with some amazing recipes and encouraged us to hunt down other cornmeal recipes that we’d never tried before – opening our eyes to literally 100s of cuisines and 1000s of new-to-us recipes!

Original recipe can be found here at from the Bon Appetit website and is also on epicurious!

Ingredients

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup medium-fine polenta or organic cornmeal (such as Bob’s Red Mill)1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons (packed) finely grated orange peel
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup whole-milk greek yogurt
3 plums, sliced with pits removed
½ pint blackberries

Preparation

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan.  (I used a mini bundt pan and a quarter size loaf pan which seemed to hold all the batter.)  Dust pan with flour; tap out excess.

Whisk 1 1/4 cups flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.

I used Golden Pheasant Polenta and the texture was perfect – coarse enough to notice but not so much that it ruined the texture of the cake batter!

Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, and orange peel in large bowl until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with yogurt in 2 additions, beating just until blended after each addition. Spread batter evenly in pan.Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes (my mini pans took less time…I started them with 35 minutes and tested every few minutes after).

In the meantime, prepare the plums and blackberries so they have enough time to macerate.

Halve the plums (I used 3) and remove the pit and then slice somewhat thinly.  Add in a handful of blackberries and sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons of sugar.

Toss gently and let sit for at least an hour.

Transfer to rack; cool in pan 15 minutes.

Run knife around cake edges to loosen. Invert cake onto rack, then invert again on rack (top side up). Cool completely. 

Cut cake crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices; serve with sugared plums and blackberries.

And for a little extra ummmpffff…top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

{Epilogue}

This cake was delicious the next morning, sliced, toasted and spread with just a bit of butter.  I may have eaten it for a week straight this way!

Enjoy!

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Fresh Corn & Parmesan Pesto with Fettucine


I don’t know about you…but, I measure my summer in corn and tomatoes.  Looking through recent photos…I’ve gone a little heavy on the corn as of late.  I was flipping through a cookbook at my parents and this recipe for Corn and Parmesan Pesto with Tagliatelle immediately caught my eye!  Fresh pasta with a fresh corn pesto topped accented with a little bacon and fresh basil just screamed SUMMER to me!  I had to make it and make it, I did.

The book is The Farm: rustic recipes for a year of incredible food by Ian Knauer, and after making this dish and drooling over the photos throughout…it is definitely on my cookbook wish-list!  He also happens to have a blog as I found out while researching a bit and I have now bookmarked this recipe (dare I try yet another buttermilk panna cotta?) as well as this one for future endeavors.

I don’t know why I had not thought of corn pesto before…but it will for sure have a place in my summer repertoire from now on!  Hmmm…I wonder what other types of pesto I could make?  Mushroom pesto…what about a zucchini and summer squash pesto…?

The recipe (courtesy of Ian Knauer) is shown below and includes a few adaptations I made…adding bacon and scallions and using store-bought fresh fettucine pasta.

Ingredients:
3 tbsp.’s plus 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 large ears)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
kosher salt and black pepper
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
8 ounces of tagliatelle or fettucine
5-7 strips of thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
3-4 scallions, green and light green parts only, thinly sliced
¾ cup coarsely torn fresh basil leaves

  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmer.  Add the corn, onion, garlic, 1¼ teaspoons of salt, and ¾teaspoon pepper and sauté until the corn is just tender but not brown, about 4 minutes.
  2. Transfer 1½ cups of the corn kernels to a small bowl.  Scrape the remaining corn mixture into a food processor.  Add the parmesan and the toasted pine nuts.  With the machine running, add the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil and blend until the pesto is almost smooth.
  3. Cook the pasta in a large pot of heavily salted boiling water, according to package directions until al dente.  Reserve 1½ cups of the pasta-cooking water, then drain the pasta.  Return the pasta to the pot.
  4. Add the corn pesto, the reserved corn mixture and ½ cup of the basil leaves as well as the crumbled crispy bacon.
  5. Toss the pasta over medium heat until warmed through, adding the reserved pasta-cooking water to thin to the desired consistency, 2 to 3 minutes.  Season the pasta to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Transfer the pasta to a large shallow bowl.  Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup basil leaves and the sliced scallions and serve with additional grated parmesan.

I doubled the recipe as I was feeding a crowd, and having leftover bacon (what a phenomenom…leftover…bacon…?) from breakfast, I couldn’t resist adding it to the dish.  I think the smoky bacon flavor countered the sweetness of the corn, the bite of the onions and the freshness of the basil really nicely.

Are you a corn purist?  Eating it straight up on the cob with melted butter and salt…or do you prefer your corn as kernels and mixed in and amongst other ingredients?

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie


For many years there was truly only one smoothie that I could get behind.  Strawberry banana.  Period.  Tropical flavors aren’t really my thing; mentioning a juice-fast in my kitchen may as well be a punishable offense; and (surprise, surprise…) I’m a bit picky when it comes to fruit on my plate or in my glass.  However, I have broadened my smoothie horizons as of late, learning to love a non-berry-banana concoction.

Only 5 ingredients and poof…you have a delicious and filling breakfast.  I start with the banana…just peel and dump it into the blender.  Next, I add a large spoonful of peanut butter.  We happen to use creamy, but since you’re blending, the crunchy kind would work fine.  Next, I pour in a 3-4 tbsp.’s of almond milk and then somewhere between ½ to 1 cup of whole milk.  (I always start with less and add more if it is too thick.)

Top with a handful or scoop of ice, again, you can always add a little more later.  Blend away until it is smooth and creamy.

You want it to be thick without being icy but still thin enough that you can suck it through a straw with no problem!  When making this for two, I start with 2 whole bananas and then guess on the amounts of everything else.  With the temps being so high lately, this is a great cool way to start the morning.

What’s been your favorite smoothie recipe this summer?  What recipes do you use to help beat the heat?

Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Shaved Baby Zucchini & Toasted Pepitas


When someone utters the words “…this is the best thing we’ve made…ever!”  ’nuff said.

Squash blossoms are available for only a short period of time in the summer and are the epitome of ‘seasonal’.  They are typically picked in the morning and brought to the farmer’s market that day and are best used within a couple of hours.  This dish is perfectly simple and refreshingly light without being short on flavor.

I spotted the original recipe on epicurious as we were walking through the farmer’s market trying to solidify our dinner plans.  Our modified recipe is shown below.

Besides squash blossoms, in looking for shallots, we stumbled upon green shallots, which I don’t believe I’ve used before.  I am positive the dish would have been delightful with regular, good ‘ole shallots…but I believe the green shallots made it just a touch more special!

Let’s talk tomatoes!  Tomatoes in the summer are serious business.  It is not summer without tomatoes that need nothing other than to be plucked from the vine and tossed in one’s mouth and with a tiny squeeze of the jaw burst forth with flavor and juice.  These miniature (sometimes referred to as Sweet 100’s) citrusy orange delights would have been so offended had we tried to cook them…they would have sprouted legs and walked right out of the kitchen (original recipe called for roasting the tomatoes).

I am often made fun of for appreciating things that come in small proportions (read: I love anything that is small or comes in a miniature size).  Prime examples of such behavior: I refuse to use anything other than the mini-taster spoons when eating ice cream from a shop; we shouldn’t even talk about the number of small bowls that crowd my cupboards; and I am addicted to small notepads and mini-books and have recently discovered some half-size mechanical pencils; so my love for baby vegetables should not surprise anyone!

How can you resist these little guys!?!

Make sure to roast the pepitas, the nuttiness and the crunch are very important for the final dish!

For squash blossoms

2 teaspoons olive oil
1-2 oz mild fresh goat cheese (6 tablespoons) at room temperature
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted until they puff
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 male squash blossoms with stems (not with baby zucchini), stems trimmed to 1 inch

Filling:

Stir together goat cheese, cream, pumpkin seeds, basil, salt, and pepper in a bowl and set aside.

Pipe filling into each blossom and twist ends of petals gently to close.  We used a ziplock bag and cut off the tip to pipe the filling into the squash blossoms.  Chill them covered, until ready to fry.

*We realized that we should have made the mixture immediately upon returning from the farmer’s market and filled the blossoms as soon as possible as the flowers were open when we bought them and closed up tighter and tighter as the day went on making it more difficult to fill them later on without ripping the delicate petals.

For vinaigrette and shaved squash

1 tablespoon rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 tablespoon minced green shallots
2 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3-4 baby zucchini, rinsed and stems discarded

Purée vinegar, shallot, oil, pepper, and salt in a blender until smooth and emulsified.

Slice squash paper-thin (lengthwise) using a mandoline, then overlap squash slices decoratively on 2 plates.  Do this shortly before frying the blossoms and plating the dish, otherwise the slices will dry out.

For tempura batter and frying

6 cups vegetable oil (preferably canola or grapeseed)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup chilled sparkling water

Make tempura batter and fry blossoms:
Heat 2 inches of oil in a 3-quart saucepan to 350°F on thermometer.

Set a bowl in a larger bowl of ice and cold water, then whisk together flour and salt in smaller bowl. Then whisk in sparkling water until combined well.

Working in batches of 2 or 3, coat blossoms in batter, lifting each out by its stem and letting excess drip off, then fry, turning, until batter is crisp (it will not brown), 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer blossoms as fried with a slotted spoon to paper towels, drain, then season with salt.

For topping

2 tablespoons green (hulled) pumpkin seeds, toasted until they puff
Handful of small basil leaves (preferably Thai) or sliced larger leaves
1 cup small cherry tomatoes (sweeter the better), halved lengthwise or served whole 

Assemble plates:

Drizzle vinaigrette over squash slices, then arrange 3 fried blossoms in middle of each plate. Sprinkle remaining oven-dried tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and basil around blossoms and season with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately and enjoy with a glass of white wine – we went with a 2008 Russian River Chardonnay.

The crisp raw zucchini where perfect paired with the crunch of the tempura and the richness of the goat cheese…add in the juicy tomatoes and the acid from the vinaigrette…and it was perfection!  Seriously…perfection!

We are dying to make this again…but just might have to wait until squash blossoms are back in season next summer!

What are your favorite completely seasonal dishes for summer?

 

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