It took us a while, but last week, we finally managed to bolt our tall bookcases to the wall. This represented a significant move forward in our settling in process, as I can finally start unpacking those boxes that hold the greatest portion of our personal belongings: our books. Once I have unpacked enough books, I will be able to re-arrange the remaining boxes in the basement, which will give me sufficient space to paint the shelves from the built-in unit, allowing me to unpack even more books and possibly even the random chinoiserie that accumulates in the life of any non-homeless adult.
Shelves bolted, the first boxes I unpacked were the cookbooks. As we admired our cookbook shelf over dinner, I invited Bill to select the cookbook that would serve as the source of my next extravagant recipe. Bill chose Simple Italian Food, by Mario Batali, of Molto Mario fame. The cookbook was a gift from my great friend Patrizia. I don’t know if Bill realized he had picked out one of our more complicated cookbooks (the “simple” in the title is very misleading), but I hate to back down from a challenge.
So after studying the book for several days, I settled on one recipe: Polenta-Crusted Pompano Salad with Sautéed Spicy Peppers, Chicory, and Tomato Oil. Except, technically, it’s really four recipes. Each of the following components of the dish boasts its own separate recipe:
- The Polenta-Crusted Pompano, served over chicory.
- The peppers served alongside the pompano and chicory.
- The Marjoram Vinaigrette used to dress the peppers before arraying them alongside the pompano and chicory.
- The Tomato Oil drizzled over the entire ensemble of pompano, chicory, and peppers.
So my first task was to buy all the ingredients. Aside from the staples (oil, vinegar, lemon, salt, pepper, garlic, polenta, herbs), everything was purchased at the Baltimore Farmers Market, which is held on Sundays under the Jones Falls Expressway. Have you been? If you like farmers markets with lots of different stalls offering an array of local seasonal produce, as well as yummy ready-to-eat stuff (mushroom fritters, kettle corn, cajun breakfast sandwiches, turkey burgers, juice, curry, jerk fish, etc.), then you will love this place. If you don’t like that kind of thing, then please don’t go. We don’t need you to ooze your negativity all over our fun.
Anyway, I got it all at the market. Except, instead of pompano, I got flounder. And I wasn’t really sure what “Italian frying peppers” were, so I got something that looked “banana-shaped,” as described by the recipe, and hoped for the best.
Once I got all my ingredients, I started by making the Tomato Oil. I used the blender, as instructed, so it came out highly emulsified, and looked more like Tomato Foam than Tomato Oil. But I hear foams are the new big thing in haute cuisine these days, so… Dig me!
Then I made the Marjoram Vinaigrette, except that I used my own fresh oregano instead of marjoram. They are from the same family, and it doesn’t make sense to me to buy an herb when I’ve grown a perfectly acceptable substitute. Perhaps next spring I will plant marjoram and discover I’ve been all turned around about this marjoram∼oregano theory, but until then…
So, two dressings down, I proceeded to sauté the peppers, which I then dressed with my Pseudo-Marjoram Vinaigrette.
Finally, I proceeded to prepare the salad itself. And surprise, surprise, the recipe says to dress the chicory in oil and lemon. For those of you keeping track at home, I have now concocted three separate dressings (Tomato Oil/Foam, Pseudo-Marjoram Vinaigrette, oil + lemon) for this one recipe! Fortunately, oil + lemon is stupid simple.
I then dredged my flounder in quick-cooking polenta and fried it up. I had a hard time keeping it in one piece when I transferred it to the salad. The polenta didn’t impress me. I wish I had used regular corn meal, instead.
Our meal was good. But I’m not sure it was really special enough for all the work it took. I can see how it makes sense as a gourmet restaurant meal. A restaurant kitchen would have a big vat of chicory dressed with olive oil and lemon, and used in any number of menu items. Similarly, a vat of peppers in vinaigrette. And a pitcher of tomato oil for finishing certain items. In the midst of a restaurant kitchen hustle, it probably doesn’t seem strange that this one menu item includes three separate dressings. But in the home kitchen, it’s just plain overkill.
In an attempt to use up some of the leftovers from this extravagant dinner, tonight I am stuffing the remaining peppers and saucing them with the remaining Tomato Oil. Wish me luck!