Saturday, September 10, 2011

So Yeah. Italy.

When we drew Italy from the canister last year, we thought "Cool!  Food we know we like!  This'll be easy!!"  Turns out...nope.  We got a leaning tower of cookbooks, and found out that there are somewhere between a dozen and a bajillion regions in Italy, and they all have their own style of cooking.  And we had seven days -- obviously we weren't going to be tasting the entire country's cuisine.  (Hmm, Olive Garden and Fazoli's aren't looking too bad...)

So on Labor Day, (Monday) we had Involtini de Milano, Polenta w/Warm Cream & Gorgonzola and Roasted Apples w/Hazelnut.  Involtini, as near as makes no difference, are three-meat-meatloaf balls, wrapped in thinly pounded steak.  Yes, I said meatloaf balls wrapped in steak.  I like Italy.

So, while Angel mixed together the meat filling in a bowl, I cut up a steak and pounded it with the flat side of a meat-hammer until it was papery-thin, then Angel wrapped the meat with the meat.

Tri-Meat Filling
Steak for the Pounding
Assembling the Meat-Wads
Assembline the Meat-Wads

After assembly, the involtini were braised, then simmered in a tomato-based sauce with diced carrots, onions and garlic.

Calphalon Colorful

Meatloaf Balls, Wrapped in Steak

 Meanwhile, polenta was simmering on the stove.  You may have seen bricks of pre-made polenta in the grocery store, that you can just slice and heat.  That's about as much like polenta as Spam is like meat.  Polenta comes from corn meal, and traditionally is stirred, by hand, for 40 minutes, nonstop, while simmering.  The "easy" method lets it simmer in a closed pot for 50 minutes with occasional stirring -- which we conscripted our son to do for at least one 2-minute session.

And during all THAT, the dessert was also underway: Baked apples, cored and stuffed with a mixture of butter, sugar, bitter chocolate and chopped hazelnuts...soaked with sweet Marsala wine and sprinkled with sugar.

Baked Apples -- Assembled

Once done, dinner was presented as shown:

Steak-Wrapped Meatloaf ball on Polenta w/Gorgonzola, Cream and Tomato-based Sauce

 First, make a base of fresh, creamy polenta, then drizzle warm cream over it.  Top with several strips of fragrant gorgonzola cheese.  Lay an involtini on top, then cover with warm sauce.  And oh man, was it good.  The polenta was creamy and smooth, not gritty at all.  The gorgonzola added wonderful musty flavors to the rich, tomato-y sauce and the meaty meat, and a bite with all the flavors was heavenly.

The kids liked the meat.

Then, once dinner was over, we had the dessert.  I liked it.  The apple's fruitiness balanced the dark, dark chocolate, and the crunchy nuts complemented the soft, baked apple flesh.  We had mixed reviews from the family, but I liked it.

Baked Apple -- Cooked


Involtini di Milano
From Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux

For the involtini rolls:
  • 4 oz ground pork
  • 2 oz ground chicken
  • 8 oz ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 6 TBS plain bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black peper
  • 1 1/2 lbs raw slices beef top sirloin, 12-15 slices, pounded to 1/8" thickness and at least 2 1/2 - 3" in size
For the sauce:
  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 3 whold cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup red or white wine
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
To make the filling for the meat rolls, knead together the ground pork, chicken, beef, Parmesan, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley, salt, and black pepper.

Lay a slice of the beef top sirloin on a cutting board, and place a couple of spoonfuls of the filling at one end.  Roll the filling up into the beeff, making sure to tuck in the sides as you go.  Secure the roll with a toothpick skewered all the wya through the middle of the roll.  Repeat this procedure for the rest of the slices and filling.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide pot until it starts to shimmer.  Brown the involtini in batches, on all sides, and set them aside on a plate when nicely caramelized.  Turn down the heat to medium, and saute the garlic cloves, onion, carrot, and bay leaves in the remaining oil.  Add the wine, screping loose any brown sticky bits from the bottom of the pan, and then the tomato puree, broth and salt.

Return the involtini and their juices to the pot, bring to a simmer, and cover with a lid set slightly ajar.  Simmer the meat rolls gently for about 1 1/2 hours, turning the involtini a few times during cooking.

Serve over Polenta with Warm Cream and Gorgonzola.

Polenta with Warm Cream and Gorgonzola
From Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux 

For the polenta:
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • spoonful of olive oil
  • 2 cups coarsely ground yellow polenta
For the warm cream and Gorgonzola:
  • 2 TBS (1/4 stick) salted butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 lb Gorgonzola cheese
Bring the  water to a rolling boil in a large, heavy pot.  Add the salt and a spoonful of olive oil.  Let the polenta slowly "rain" into the boiling water, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat to a simmer.  Switch to a long-handled wooden spoon, and stir constantly along the bottom and sides of the pot.  The polenta is done when it pulls away from the side of the pot in one mass (about 40 minutes).  At this point it will have lost its graininess and become very fragrant.

For a less labor-intensive version of Mamma Maria's polenta, you can cover the pot with a lid during the cooking;  every 10 minutes, stir the polenta for a full 2 minutes.  It will be done in roughly 50 minutes.

Warm the butter and cream together in a saucepan set over low heat, whisking to combine.  Simmer for 5 minutes to slightly reduce and thicken.

To serve, ladle the polenta onto plates, spoon the warm cream sauce over it, place a slice of Gorgonzola on top and finish with the involtini and sauce.

Roasted Apples with Hazlenut, Bitter Chocolate, and Lemon Zest
From Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux 
  • 6 firm baking apples (sch as Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Crispin or Pippin) 
  • 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) soft unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 2 tsp finely grated or minced lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 oz (1/3 cup) chopped dark chocolate (I use 80% cocoa content)
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet Marsala wine, divided
Optional accompaniment: Softly whipped heavy cream, unsweetened

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter a small baking dish, roughly 8 by 10 inches.

Slice a thin layer off the bottom of the apples and discard; this levels the apples out so that they have a stable base upon which to stand during roasting.  Slice 1/2 inch off the tops of the apples and set the tops to one side.  Peel the apple bases.  Then, using a small teaspoon, scrape out an inch-diameter core from each apple, making sure not to cut through the bottom.

Mix otgether 3 TBS of the sugar with teh butter, lemon zest, hazelnuts, and chocolate.  Spoon this filling into the center of the apples, mounding any extra on top.  Drizzle the exposed apples with the 3/4 cup of the Marsala, and cover them with their tops.  Pour the rest of the Marsala over the apples and sprinkle htem with the remaining 1 TBS sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes, basting the apples with the hot Marsala a few times during heir roasting.  The apples are done when a toothpick can be inserted into them easily.  Server warm, with Marsala spooned over the apples and whipped cream on the side.

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