One green jar left in the fridge from a pasta face-off between two proud Italians. The Milanese girl made linguine with squid ink and mussels, staining our lips and teeth black. The Genoese boy went for simplicity: several fat jars of handmade pesto shipped back in his suitcase. Tossed with more linguine: an abundance of olive oil and garlic. A light grass green. Stuffed, we were too lazy to decide on a winner.
The leftovers became lunch for one. Quite an elegant lunch for a weekday, for a girl in her pyjamas. Petal shaped wedges of grilled polenta – laden with butter, parmesan and ricotta and flavoured with pesto – topped with crisp ham, a lacy fried egg and more pesto. Rich and beautiful.
Food snobbery aside, proper pesto is sort of the point of this recipe. (So not the jars that sit on the shelf for months.) If you don’t have a willing Italian smuggler, a tub from a deli would do. As long as it’s fresh. Or have fun whacking basil leaves and parmesan into submission.
(adapted from Yottam Ottolenghi. He suggests a sharp salad of rocket and tomato to balance the buttery richness of the grilled polenta. I found the leftovers equally delicious atop a puddle of simple tomato sauce – see recipe below.)
60ml fresh pesto
150g quick-cook polenta
1 tsp salt
Bring the water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan. Slowly pour in the polenta while stirring vigorously so it does not form lumps. Let it cook for 3-4 minutes on a medium heat, continually stirring, until the mixture is thick and starting to bubble like lava. Remove from the heat and beat in the butter, cheese, pesto and salt. Taste. Gently fold in the ricotta, leaving a few swirls.
Grease a large baking pan or individual cupcake moulds (about 16). Pour in the polenta, smooth over the top. Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes.
Just before you are ready to eat, pop slabs of polenta / individual polenta cakes under the grill or in a very hot oven for 10 minutes until golden-brown and crispy. (Be careful: before grilling, the polenta will be very soft.)
N.B. For longer lasting and sturdier polenta cakes, leave out the ricotta. Otherwise after a couple of days they start to fall apart / taste a bit odd.
Green eggs and ham
4 slices delicious ham
4 dollops pesto
salad leaves / dressing of your choice
Grill the pesto polenta. Tear the ham into playing card sized pieces and pop it under the grill with the polenta to crisp around the edges. Fry the eggs in a little olive oil.
Layer a slab of polenta / several polenta cakes with pieces of ham. Top with a fried egg and a dollop of pesto. Serve with salad on the side.
Simple tomato sauce
Fry a few shallots in olive oil until translucent, tip in half a glass of wine and reduce. Add a tin of tomatoes/passata and simmer to a thick dark sauce. Finally add a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and 1 tsp wine vinegar.