For most people, food wise, Italy is associated with pizza, pasta, gelato etc. But for me, only the thought of going to this beautiful country is associated with the most delicious VEGETABLES on the planet! And what vegetables! I love every aspect of the food in Italy; the Italians are taking their food very seriously, they are already making plans in the morning for dinner, talk about it and decide about the menu and shopping accordingly. One of the things that captured my eyes from the very first time I visited the country was that even in the tiniest back garden you will find a little vegetable patch. Who ever can, will grow some tomatoes, few aubergine and zucchini plant, all nicely groomed and very efficiently tucked next to each other.
My family and I just spent a magical week in Sicily. As always, we rented a self catering accommodation, a beautiful country house on the slopes of mount Etna. The volcanic soil is so rich with minerals and the sun shines most of the days results in the most tasty, full of flavor vegetable like I haven’t tasted anywhere. Freshness plays an important factor as well. In every corner of the street I was happy to see local farmers offering a cart-full of goodness, freshly picked earlier in the morning.
Spring time is artichoke time and broad beans and asparagus ….. When I stopped next to one of those lusciously loaded veg cart to buy few artichokes for lunch, the lady convinced me to get a whole bunch of them as she doesn’t sell them less of thirty… Eat eat! It good for you she said, and so I was heading back with a huge bunch of them to find four happy faces looking at me. Luckily, artichokes are a big favorite in my family. And since the vegetables are so delicious I say keep it simple, just quickly boil them, pluck the leaves and dip in in a dressing made from good quality mayonnaise , olive oil, garlic, salt and freshly ground pepper. Viola! If you have more time to mess with it, then cut and prepare the artichoke so you are left only with the hearts and few inner leaves, lightly cook in a broth, drain and dress with plenty of good quality virgin olive oil, a generous squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper. This will keep in the fridge for few days to take part in any salad, sandwich or pasta.
One beautiful sunny morning our host, Allesandro, took us for a long walk around his estate, through rows of budding vines and into the wild nature and taught us how to pick wild asparagus. We could not spot them at the beginning but when we learnt what to look for we couldn’t have enough of these gentle young stalks. Once back in the house I made some grilled polenta and simply tossed the wild asparagus in some olive oil, salt and pepper and topped every slice of polenta with a heap of green deliciousness.
Here below I am happy to share with you the photos and my grilled polenta recipe. Enjoy!
Polenta on the Grill
You will need
110g / ¾ cup instant polenta
240ml / 2 cups water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon chilli flakes
80g parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
fresh basil leaves to garnish
extra olive oil for greasing
1. Line the base of the cake tin with greaseproof paper and oil the sides.
2. Place the polenta in the pan together with the water. Add the oil, thyme and chilli flakes. Bring to the boil over a medium heat.
3. Let the polenta simmer for 7 minutes over a low heat whilst stirring constantly. Mash any lumps with the back of the wooden spoon.
4. Remove the polenta from the heat and immediately stir in the cheese. Mix thoroughly.
5. Pour the polenta into the cake tin and smooth the top. Leave aside to cool and set for 1 hour.
6. Set the oven to grill mode. Place the polenta cake under the hot grill, and grill until it’s piping hot and the crust has browned a little, about 6-8 minutes (depending on your grill). 7. To serve, slice into individual portions and garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve at once.