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Polenta Breakfast Bake

I don’t know about you, but when I have overnight guests, I don’t generally leave them to fend for themselves when they wake up. At a minimum, if they’re early risers, I’ll show them where to find the coffee and cereal, of course, and have bagels and cream cheese, muffins or croissants available. More often than not, however, I’ll be up earlier than my guests, preparing pancakes, French toast, or eggs and toast for them.

But for special occasions, like Christmas Eve morning, when we knew we’d be eating only one other meal in the day, (albeit a Lucullan feast), I splurge and make a casserole like this polenta breakfast bake recipe from The New York Times. It’s hearty enough to hold everyone until the big meal later on and much of it can be ahead of time. The bacon can be cooked and polenta can be made on the stove top the day before, leaving only the assembly and final baking to be done in the morning while guests are pouring coffee or tea.

To make it easy for yourself,  buy instant polenta (please – NOT the already made polenta in a roll), and cook the bacon on a baking sheet in the oven. You can cook both of these the night before (or even two days before.) Just lay out the bacon strips on a baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees F. for about 10-15 minutes, or until it reaches the crispness you like. After you’ve made the polenta and added the cheese, pour it into a buttered casserole, and using a spoon or the bottom of a small bowl, carve out indentations for the eggs that you’ll crack into the spaces the next morning. Cover with plastic wrap or foil, and put everything in the refrigerator overnight.

Just before you’re ready to bake the casserole, scatter some spinach leaves and bacon pieces here and there, and drop the eggs into the little spaces you created in the polenta. Sprinkle it all with parmesan cheese and bake until the desired level of doneness you prefer your eggs. I prefer the yolks to be slightly runny, but it’s difficult (at least for me) to get the whites thoroughly cooked without nearly overcooking the yolks. If you have a solution to that, let me know.

When you remove the casserole from the oven, scatter a few fresh basil leaves all around, and enjoy. We loved this as a breakfast treat, but I wouldn’t mind sitting down to this for lunch or dinner either.

I hope all my readers had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or whatever holiday you celebrate. All my best wishes to you all for a healthy and delicious 2019.

Click here to find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more).

Polenta Breakfast Bake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Easy and delicious, make-ahead, cheese polenta breakfast bake
Author:
Serves: serves 6-8
Ingredients
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the casserole
  • 1 cup quick cooking polenta (NOT the kind already made in a tube)
  • ½ t. sea salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup/2 ounces fontina or mozzarella cheese (I used about 3 oz. of a herbal Boursin cheese)
  • 5 ounces cooked bacon (or sausage, salami or ham) - optional
  • 1 cup spinach leaves
  • 6 large eggs (or 8 if your casserole is large enough)
  • ½ cup/2 ounces parmesan cheese
  • ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup basil leaves to scatter
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Generously butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole and set aside.
  3. Cook the bacon in the oven on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until crisp. (This can be done the day before.)
  4. Pour 4 cups of water in a large pot and gradually whisk in the polenta and salt.
  5. Cook, switching from a whisk to a wooden spoon, stirring constantly until the polenta bubbles and pulls away from the pan, about 3 minutes.
  6. Vigorously stir in the milk, butter and cheese until smooth and creamy. (It will seem loose.)
  7. Spread the polenta onto the bottom of the prepared pan.
  8. Using the back of a spoon, or a small bowl, make indentations in the polenta for the eggs.
  9. (The polenta can be cooked the day before.)
  10. When ready to bake, scatter some of the spinach over the polenta and crack the eggs into the wells.
  11. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake until the eggs have reached the doneness you prefer.
  12. After 20 minutes, my whites were just cooked and the yolks appeared a bit runny. I would have preferred them runnier, but the whites took longer to set than the yolks.
  13. Sprinkle with black pepper, scatter some basil leaves over everything, and serve, with buttered toast made from good, sturdy bread.

 

Grilled Shrimp With Pesto Pasta

Grilled Shrimp with Pesto Pasta

 My last post was long. Very long. But there was a lot to tell — sorry if you tuned out.  If I l lost some of you on that you, you’ll be glad to see this one is blessedly short. And it’s about basil, everyone’s favorite summer herb, and shrimp too.

 If you’re growing basil, you’ve probably already had to cut it back at least once or twice and have made pesto a few times too. Here’s another way to enjoy that pesto. It’s not rocket science, but maybe you’ve never thought of putting the combo together. Just grill a few shrimp and you’ve transformed that ubiquitous pasta sauce into something a little special.
Don’t forget to put some of that pesto away in the freezer for the cold winter months ahead. You don’t have to use it only as a sauce for pasta (although that will be a nice reminder of summer when the January snows fall.) A tablespoon or two makes a wonderful addition to soups and stews too.
Grilled Shrimp with Pesto Pasta.
For two servings:
10 large shrimp (or however many you like)
4 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
springs of fresh thyme
salt, pepper
1 large plum tomato, peeled and deseeded and cut into strips (optional)
1/2 pound pasta (I used trofie, a classic shape for pesto)
about 1/2 cup of freshly made pesto alla genovese – directions below.
Grilled Shrimp
Buy large uncooked shrimp. Peel off the shells and devein the shrimp. Put the shrimp in a bowl with the olive oil, garlic, some salt, pepper and fresh herbs. I used thyme, but oregano would work too. If you want the shrimp to have a little kick, add some dried red pepper flakes. Let it sit for at least 1/2 hour to marinate.
Get the grill good and hot and rub the grates with a paper towel that’s been coated with vegetable oil. This will help the shrimp not to stick to the grates.
Grill the shrimp for a couple of minutes on each side and add to the pasta that’s been already mixed with the pesto.
For each portion, I also added strips of one large plum tomato that I had peeled and deseeded. (To peel easily, drop the tomato into a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes.)
 
Pesto Recipe – Get the full instructions with photos here
Pesto Alla Genovese
The amounts aren’t exact. A lot depends on how firmly you pack the basil into the measuring cup, how large the garlic cloves are, and of course, your taste buds.

4 cups basil, loosely packed
2 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup Italian pine nuts, toasted, or pistachios (salted or unsalted), or toasted almonds or walnuts
extra virgin olive oil – as much as two cups, as needed to obtain a loose pesto.
1/4 cup – 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (or pecorino if desired)

If using a food processor: Tear leaves from stem, wash, dry and place in a food processor, along with the garlic, nuts and a small amount of the olive oil. Start with 1/2 cup and keep adding more until it flows smoothly when you dip a spoon into it, but not so thin that it falls off in a stream. Use your judgment.
Add parmesan cheese if serving immediately. If you’re planning to freeze it, don’t add the parmesan cheese until after you defrost it and are ready to serve.

If using a mortar and pestle, start with the washed and dried basil leaves, garlic and nuts and add a small amount of coarse salt to help break down the leaves. Pound with the pestle and slowly add a little bit of olive oil. Keep working the mixture with the pestle and add the rest of the oil as needed. The process takes a lot of patience and time.