Using a new recipe is an adventure. An adventure whose results can vary tremendously.
Sometimes a first time recipe can result in a new family favorite that goes into the regular rotation and is prepared so often that it’s hard to remember there ever was a recipe in the first place.
Others are total disasters with no redeeming qualities whatsoever that are forgotten as soon as they’re chucked into the garbage or left to molder in the back corner of the fridge waiting for the second chance that never comes.
Still others show promise. They’re tasty enough to try again and over time you alter and adapt it until it’s perfect. These are in some ways the best ones because the finished result involves your own creativity.
And then there are the uglies. Food that is super yummy but is horrific to look at. Food that defies you to eat with your eyes because if you did the first bite would never be taken. A good example is chicken livers served over Gorgonzola polenta. This of course, is a non-starter for anyone who doesn’t like chicken livers but for those who do, it’s appearance still presents a challenge. While this delectable combination of chicken livers, onions, peppers and mushrooms simmered in wine and served over creamy, rich, cheesy polenta sounds like a dream, it looks more like the morning after. More precisely, it looks like dog poo slathered in vomit. But it smells great and tastes better for the intrepid soul who dares to take a bite.
Even without the chicken livers, any of the chunky sauces served over polenta suffer much the same fate, like the sweet corn polenta with eggplant sauce below. Delicious, yes. Attractive, not so much.
A variation on this theme is food that is not necessarily unappetizing in appearance but doesn’t look like what it is; pesto cheesecake for instance. It’s a savory appetizer that looks like a sweet dessert. It can be disconcerting, to say the least. But again, it’s scrumptious. It doesn’t help that the one pictured here was garnished with walnuts instead of pine nuts. Walnuts, particularly black walnuts, are a fine substitute for pine nuts in pesto. They’re far less expensive and give it a more local taste. But sadly, they do add to the sweet vs. savory confusion.
All of the recipes here are extraordinarily delicious but they are also challenging to the eyes. How adventurous are you?
Follow homemade pesto instructions or use purchased pesto in this appetizer cheesecake. This recipe makes one large cheesecake, but can be easily cut in half and baked in a 7 inch springform pan or two 4 inch spring form pans. Unbaked cheesecakes also freeze really well.
1/2 cup pesto (homemade or purchased)
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese — grated
2 package,8oz cream cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese — grated
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne
3 large eggs
1/4 cup pine nuts
Preheat oven to 325°F. Rub butter over bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. Mix breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons Parmesan and coat pan with the crumb mixture. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, ricotta, Parmesan, salt and cayenne in a large bowl until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Transfer half of mixture to medium bowl. Mix pesto mixture into remaining half. Pour pesto mixture into prepared pan; smooth top. Carefully spoon plain mixture over; gently smooth top. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup pine nuts and bake until center no longer moves when pan is shaken, about 45 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool completely. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
3 tbsp. bacon fat (or olive oil)
2 cups (1/2-inch diced) French bread, preferably a crusty baguette
16 plum tomatoes, cut 1/2-inch dice, about 2 1/2 pounds (You can use beefsteak tomatoes but the result will be juicier)
1 tbsp. minced garlic (3 cloves)
2 tbsp. sugar (optional)
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup julienned basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the bacon fat in a large (12 inch) saute pan over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and stir to coat with the oil. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the cubes are evenly browned. Add the tomatoes, garlic and sugar to the pan and continue to cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add the basil and remove from the heat. Pour the tomato mixture into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan cheese and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly. Serve hot or warm.
Chicken Livers with Gorgonzola Polenta
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 pound chicken livers, trimmed and chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
7 mushrooms, sliced
1 (14.5 ounce) can peeled and diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup milk
1 cup dry polenta
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper, and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender. Add mushrooms and garlic to the skillet, and cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Move the vegetables to the sides of the skillet, and add the chicken livers. Cook livers for 5 minutes, turning frequently. Stir tomatoes and wine into the skillet, and turn the heat to medium-high. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid is gone. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, pour chicken stock into a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Slowly pour in polenta while stirring vigorously. Cook for a few minutes, then stir in milk. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, until thick. Stir Gorgonzola into the polenta until melted. Spoon polenta onto plates, and cover with the chicken liver sauce.
Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 tsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes (fresh or canned)
6 1/2 tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. chopped oregano
Heat up the oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until nicely brown. Drain off as much oil as you can and discard it — the safest way to do this is to scoop out the eggplant to a plate using a slotted spoon, then pour off the oil into a bowl before added the eggplant back in. You can save the oil to fry lamb chops or eggs in tomorrow. 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 chopped tomatoes, water, salt, sugar and oregano and cook for a further 5 minutes to get a deep-flavored sauce. Set aside; warm it up when needed.
6 ears of corn
2 1/4 cups water
3 tbsp. butter, diced
7 ounces feta, crumbled
1/4 tsp. salt
Remove the leaves and “silk” from each ear of corn, then chop off the pointed top and stalk. Use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels — either stand each ear upright on its base and shave downward, or lay each ear on its side on a cutting board to slice off the kernels. You want to have 1 1/4 pounds kernels. Place the kernels in a medium saucepan and barely cover them with the 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 liquid. Process them for quite a few minutes, to break as much of the kernel case as possible. Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process. Now return the corn paste to the pan with the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring, on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to mashed potato consistency. (Be aware that if you have a lot of liquid left in the pan, it can take a while to cook down the polenta, and it will sputter. Consider holding back some or all of the liquid. Alternately, if you like the consistency after processing, you can skip to step 5.) Fold in the butter, the feta, salt and some pepper and optionally cook for a further 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
2 lbs. lean ground meat
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 (15 1/4 ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained
6 -8 red potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
2 (10 3/4 ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup
10 slices cheese, cheddar or American
Brown ground meat with onions, bell pepper, celery and minced garlic. Drain off any excess oil. Add drained corn and seasonings to ground meat. Layer half of ground meat mixture in 9×13 pan. Place sliced potato rounds on top of ground meat. Spoon one can of Cream of Mushroom Soup on top of potatoes. Place 5 slices of cheese on top of soup. Layer remaining ground meat and then top with remaining can of Cream of Mushroom soup. Place remaining 5 slices of cheese on top of soup. Cover with foil and bake at 350°F. for approximately 45 minutes to one hour or until potatoes are tender. Remove foil and bake a few more minutes or until edges are slightly crusty.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard or by email.