Cat and Sue Cook Together For Once, Volume 2: Gruyere Polenta Cakes, with Creamy Braised Leeks, Seared Diver Scallops and Roasted Tomato Drizzle

I’m so proud of how LONG that title is.  Because, as everyone knows, with recipes, long = fancy.  The coolest thing about this meal is that Sue and I made it up.  The second coolest thing about it is that it is a pretty even split of ideas, some were mine, some were Sue’s.  The finished result was really harmonious, all the flavors and textures complementing each other well, nothing jarring but everything speaking for itself.  Plus, people who don’t like scallops are no friends of mine.  So here are the recipes, with a few notes about each one.

Gruyere Polenta Cakes

Polenta is grits, in case there’s any confusion about that.  To make polenta cakes, you cook the grits, including all your flavors, pour them into a pan, cool them in the fridge, cut them into shapes, and then pan fry them.  Simple, delicious, an excellent addition to meals when you’re tired of rice and potatoes.  Polenta is pretty bland, so be careful to include lots of flavor.  For these, we made them creamy and cheesy with Gruyere, though I’ve  made cheddar grits, parmesan grits and goat cheese grits with enormous success as well.  The ratio I use for liquid to grits is 1:3, assuming you’ll add cheese and some butter.

1 cup grits

2 cups milk and/or heavy cream (Some cream is fantastic in here, not that you MUST include it.  Just make sure that whatever proportions of milk and cream you use add up to 2 of the 3 parts of liquid required.)

1 cup chicken stock (You can use veggie stock if you’re a vegetarian.  Please don’t use water.  If you must, use another cup of milk.  Just don’t use water.)

3/4 -1 cup shredded Gruyere

a pat or two of butter

salt and pepper

Toss the grits and all liquid in a cold pot and turn heat to medium.  Let the grits slowly incorporate the liquid, stirring frequently.  This takes 20-25 minutes, but if you’re in a hurry, you can cook them on higher heat and stand there whisking the grits the whole time to make sure they don’t clump, burn, or cook unevenly.  Your call.  When the grits are done, they’ll look like thinnish porridge or oatmeal, and you can pour them into a buttered dish or pan.  Bear in mind the eventual shape you want the polenta cakes to have, we did pretty triangles, you could easily do circles or squares, or whatever.  Let the grits cool and harden in the fridge until you’re ready to pan fry them, at least a couple hours.  To pan fry them, simply cut them into the desired shapes, melt some oil or butter (or bacon grease!) in a nonstick pan on medium-high heat, and pop the polenta cakes into the oil.  Don’t move them around much, they’re a bit fragile.  Let them cook maybe 4-5 minutes on each side, flipping only once, until each side is a nice, deep, crunchy brown.  Remove them from the oil and plate immediately.

Creamy Braised Leeks

2 big bunches of leeks

1/2 cup unsalted butter (unsalted butter is better for this, but if you only have salted, watch your temperature and account for the salt)

1 Tbs of all purpose flour

1/4 cup of cream or 1/2 and 1/2

Fresh ground pepper

Salt

So last time we talked about leeks it was for potato leek soup. Leeks are like a mildly flavored green onion. They are also a very dirty vegetable.  To prep leeks, you will need to cut off the roots (about an inch) and then cut off the top dark green fibrous portion of  leeks (about 1 1/2 inches). Cut the rest into small rings (about 1/2 inch thick). Place the rings into a bowl of water and separate the rings with your fingers. Swirl them around to help release the dirt, and then let them sit for awhile. Scoop out the leeks with a slotted spoon into your cooking pot (we used a small enameled dutch oven). DO NOT pour the leeks into a colander or you will coat them with all the dirt you took the time to extract.

Add the butter to the pot and let them cook on low heat until they are tender, be careful to not let them brown, or they will turn bitter. Add the flour and stir until evenly distributed, cook for about 1 min (you are making a roux here). Then add the cream and stir until creamy. Add a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and a sprinkle of salt. Taste to see if you need more of anything. You can keep these on low heat while you prepare everything else, if they start to get too thick add a splash of chicken broth, or splash of milk.

Seared Diver Scallops

When you go to the grocery store to buy scallops, you’ll notice the diver scallops are like 40 times the price of regular scallops.  That’s because they are diver scallops, which means that divers pluck them from the sea by hand, as opposed to farmed scallops which are dredged up with a big net.  They are the best, biggest, tenderest, tastiest scallops a person can eat, and in this recipe they’re prepared so simply it’s worth it to spend the money to get something perfect.  Also- if you don’t like scallops, or you think you don’t, you’re wrong.  Scallops are like clouds with a very delicate sea flavor.  We served 3 scallops per person, which is more than enough.  They were about the size of golfballs.

Scallops

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper (liberal amounts)

cayenne pepper (small amount)

Get your oil hot in a nonstick saute pan, on medium heat.  Salt, pepper and cayenne both sides of your scallops.  When the oil is hot, place scallops in the pan in one layer, not touching each other.  If you have to do this in several stages, do that, just don’t crowd the scallops or they will not sear properly.  Tongs are the best tool for turning scallops, they are a meaty fish but they are still flaky like fish, using a spatula will sometimes result in broken scallops. Let them cook 3-4 minutes, not moving them around.  After 3-4 minutes, when you can see some nice browning happening on the underside of the scallops, flip them over and cook them a further 3-4 minutes to achieve the same browning on the opposite side.  When they’re brown on both sides, remove them from the pan and plate them immediately.

Note- scallops are DELICIOUS raw.  If you’ve never had raw scallop in a sushi restaurant, do so immediately.  I prefer raw scallops to cooked, actually.  My point is, it’s best to serve scallops rare- just make sure they’re nice and brown on the outsides.

Roasted Tomato Drizzle

This is the easiest thing on the face of the earth.  Seriously.  Make it and put it on anything, but in this meal, the acidity of the tomato and balsamic compliments the richness of the leeks and the polenta.

1 pint cherry tomatoes

3 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Roast the tomatoes, olive oil and salt and pepper in an oven safe pan for 20-30 minutes, on 350. Roast the tomatoes until they burst and some are slightly charred. Remove them from the oven, let them cool, and toss them in your food processor with the balsamic (make sure to scrape all the drippings off the pan, there is a lot of flavor in there).  Serve however you want.

Pre- food processor stage, these are also the roasted tomatoes I (Sue) used on the vegan pizza, in fact I use them in a lot of things.  If you are like me and don’t love raw tomatoe,s (except the heirloom ones, I can eat those like candy) this is a great way to maintain a fresh flavor, while still taking away that “raw” taste. Keep in mind that you can roast them as long or as little as you like.

These pictures aren’t perfect…but we also spent the ENTIRE day in the kitchen, and we were really hungry.

We also were trying to plate quickly for 6 people….

– Co-written by Cat and Sue (can you tell?)

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Filed under Cat and Sue Cook Together for Once, Seafood, Sides

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