Since exploring London’s culinary scene last summer, and eating at the famed restaurant Nopi, I have been obsessed with Yotam Ottolenghi. He may quite literally be the master of fusing the diverse culinary traditions of the Mediterranean into beautiful, mouthwatering fare. Ottolenghi’s only rule: “the ingredients must always be first-rate, and the food gorgeous and tasty.” And so over the course of the next several months (or maybe even years) we will be exploring his world of Plenty.
As Ottolenghi describes it: “Polenta made from fresh corn is almost like baby food, but in a good sense. It’s smooth, sweet, and soothing, a bit like a chunky savory porridge… an ideal heartwarming supper meal.” I’ve omitted the feta in his orginal recipe and substituted it with a puree of sautéed, browned and slightly caramelized onions to mimic the flavors he intended. The addition of the eggplant caponata to the creamy, chunky base is a work of outstanding artistry thereby elevating the dish from ordinary to extraordinary. Serve this with some good crusty bread and a nice glass of red wine and you have what could be the most comforting, sweet, smooth and savory meal of the century.
Yield: Serves 4
6 ears of corn
2 1/4 cup + 4 tbsp water
1 tsp olive or canola oil
1/2 large onion, sliced
3 tbsp earths balance (or butter)
3/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive or canola oil
1 large eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 tsp tomato paste
1/4 cup good white wine
1 cup chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
6 1/2 tbsp water
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
To make the eggplant caponata: Heat up the oil in a large sauce pan and sauté the eggplant, with 1/4 tsp salt, on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until nicely brown.
Add the tomato paste to the pan and stir with the eggplant. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopper tomatoes, water, 1/2 tsp salt, sugar and oregano and cook for 5 more minutes to get a deep-flavored sauce. Set aside; warm it when needed.
To make the polenta: remove the leaves and “silk” form each ear of corn, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Stand each ear upright on its base and use a sharp knife to cut off the kernels. You want to have about 1 1/4 lb. of kernels.
In a medium skillet, sauté the onion with the oil. Let caramelize and brown on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Then blend the onions with approx. 4 tbsp of water and set aside. Place the kernels in a medium saucepan and cover them with the 2 1/4 cup water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Use a slotted spoon to lift the kernels from the water and into a food processor (reserve the cooking water), add the onion mixture. Process this for quite a few minutes, to break as much of the kernel case as possible. Add some on the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry.
Now return the corn paste to the pan with the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring constantly, on low hear for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to a mashed potato consistency. Fold in the earths balance (butter), salt and some pepper and cook for 2 more minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
To serve: divide the polenta among shallow bowls and spoon some warm eggplant sauce in the center.
Inspiration from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty