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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.

 

Girasole Rustico (Sunflower Tart)

I subscribe to an Italian TV channel and one of the programs I like to watch is a cooking show called “La Prova del Cuoco” (The Cook’s Test). The host, Antonella Clerici, invites well known Italian chefs, as well as members of the public to cook each day. On a recent program, this girasole rustico was prepared by chef Roberto Valluzzi, and it caught my eye right away. I thought it would be perfect to prepare for my Italian chit-chat group, since we usually offer both savory and sweet things in our weekly get-together.

This not only was delicious, but was a snap to prepare and makes a really beautiful presentation. You can make the pastry with your own recipe, but for this particular day, I took a shortcut and bought frozen pastry from Trader Joe’s.

All you really need to do is sauté some scallions with spinach and a couple of anchovies (don’t worry, it doesn’t give it a fishy taste. The anchovies “melt” and add great flavor). Let the mixture cool, then mix it with ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese.

Lay out the one layer of the pastry on a cookie sheet (I used a pizza stone) and spread the filling all around.

Crimp the edges with a fork, and place a small bowl in the center. You’ll need this as a guide.

Make cuts through the pastry in even measurements, then take each section and give it a twist.

It will look like this when you’re finished. Remove the bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.

Bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown. Cut into sections and let people serve themselves.

Buon Appetito!

Thanks to all you readers who left a comment on my last post. Six of you will be receiving a tin of these delicious Cornish sardines and you were picked by a random number generator. I wish I had enough tins to send to everyone who left a comment. The winners are Marie, Jan Mannino, Joanne W., Claudia, Victoria Skelly, and Gloria. Please send me an email (linda@ciaochowlinda.com) with your home address so I can send you the tin. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Girasole Rustico (Sunflower Tart)
 
Ingredients
  • 2 round sheets of your favorite homemade pastry recipe or purchased (I used Trader Joe's brand)
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • dash of hot pepper flakes
Instructions
  1. Sauté the scallions in the olive oil with the anchovy fillets, until the scallions are soft and the anchovies are almost "melted." Add the spinach, salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes. Set aside to cool.
  2. When cool, add the spinach mixture to the ricotta and parmesan cheese and blend well in a bowl.
  3. Lay one layer of pastry on a round cooking sheet (I used a pizza stone). You may want to grease the cookie sheet just for extra insurance so it doesn't stick, or you can place the pastry on a piece of baking parchment paper.
  4. Spread the cooled spinach mixture over the pastry.
  5. Lay the second sheet of pastry over the spinach mixture and press gently all around, but more firmly at the edges. Seal by pressing fork tines around the perimeter.
  6. Place a small bowl in the center of the pastry, and cut all around the edges, stopping at the bowl.
  7. Pick up each cut piece and twist gently.
  8. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over the middle of the pastry and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until the pastry is cooked.

 

Spinach Ricotta Pie

Spinach Ricotta Pie

 I wish I had thought to post this before Easter, because it would have made the perfect meal to serve on Fridays during Lent. But it still is a good one to keep in your back pocket for those nights when you want a meatless meal.

I made this using a store bought pie crust, making it easy to get on the table in a snap, but use your favorite homemade crust recipe if you have time.
The recipe comes from “Blue Plate Special,” a memoir by Kate Christensen, read by my book group nearly a year ago. It’s a passionately written account of her unorthodox childhood and relationships as she navigates her way through adulthood. Through the sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, and frequently tumultuous events, food is the sustaining thread throughout. It’s well worth a read.
And if you have a food, travel or family story you’ve been wanting to write down for posterity, now is the time to start. We’ve got only a couple of spots left for our memoir writing retreat on Lake Como, Italy. Join us for an unforgettable week in this enchanting location in late September. Get more information by going to www.italyinotherwords.com

 

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Spinach Ricotta Pie
from Kate Christensen’s “Blue Plate Special”
1 onion minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 10-ounce frozen box of spinach, thawed
a dash of cayenne pepper, basil,
salt and pepper
1 pound ricotta cheese
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs
Sauté the onion in the olive oil.  Add the spinach, the herbs and spices. Beat the eggs, then blend in the ricotta cheese and the cheddar cheese, plus the sauteed onion and spices. Stir. Turn everything into a store bought or homemade pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes until golden brown on top.
Colorful Carrot And Spinach Loaf

Colorful Carrot and Spinach Loaf

Have you ever bought those vegetable pates and been disappointed to discover how vile they are? They’re really an insipid excuse for food and I refuse to buy them again. This is quite the contrary, I assure you. This recipe has such a sweet and buttery flavor, you’ll be making this not only when your vegetarian friends are on the guest list, but for everyone who loves good food.

I made this for a reception yesterday and the plate was practically licked clean. The recipe comes from my friend Dede, one of “le matte,” my Italian chit-chat group. It’s originally a Wolfgang Puck recipe from his book “Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen.” I changed it to use frozen spinach instead of fresh and used Jarlsberg cheese instead of the Gruyere, since that’s what I had on hand.

It can be served warm or at room temperature, but if you try to serve it right out of the oven, it won’t hold together very well. Give it at least 15 minutes to rest.

Start out by buttering a 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2 inch loaf pan. Then line the pan with aluminum foil and butter the aluminum foil.

Then slice 2 pounds of carrots, using a knife or a mandoline. (Be careful of fingers if you’re using a mandoline. Mine fell prey – again – to the sharp blade and I have the bloody band-aids and the throbbing thumb to prove it.)

Here’s the entire recipe:

Carrot Loaf

1 stick plus 1 T. unsalted butter
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch slices or little bits
1/4 pound mushrooms, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 box frozen spinach, thawed (original recipe calls for 1 pound fresh spinach)
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups cheese (Gruyere, Swiss, or whatever you’ve got on hand. I used Jarlsberg.)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper

1. Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and saute’ slowly until tender, about 25 minutes. Chop coarsely and remove to a bowl.
2. Increase heat to high and melt 1 T. of butter. Add the mushrooms and saute’ for a couple of minutes. Chop coarsely and add to carrots. Set aside.
3. Melt 1/2 stick of butter over medium high heat in a skillet, add the spinach and saute a couple of minutes. Chop coarsely and place in a separate bowl.
4. Beat together the eggs, cheese, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add about 2/3rds of the egg mixture to the carrot mixture and mix well. Add the remaining egg mixture to the spinach and mix well.
5. Spread half the carrot mixture over the bottom of the pan, cover with the spinach mixture and top with the remaining carrot mixture.
6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover the loaf pan loosely with foil and place in a roasting pan. Add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the loaf pan.
7. Bake about 1 hour 15 minutes or until a knife plunged into the center comes out clean.
8. Uncover, invert the loaf onto a serving platter and remove foil.