I cannot even begin to count how many times I have had something great to eat at a restaurant and wished I could duplicate it at home. I think about a dish and ponder how I could recreate it and then I promptly forget about it; or more likely I'm too lazy to do it! But I couldn't stop thinking about those polenta frites from Bel-Lago yesterday. And I'm not even a huge polenta fan! Guess I'll be re-thinking that now, won't I? So tonight I set out to duplicate those crunchy, golden sticks that were haunting me.
I began by assembling what I thought the ingredients might be. First would be chopping and sauteing the pancetta. I didn't want to make a huge number of fries for just Bob and me, so I diced a nice little pile of pancetta and cooked it off and drained it well. Taking about 2 packed tablespoons of frozen chopped spinach,I thawed it and squeezed it as dry as I could get it. I chopped it up some more. I added 2 1/2 tablespoons shredded asiago (because I had it on hand) and tossed the three of those ingredients together and set them aside.
I brought 1 1/8 cups of water to a boil and slowly whisked in 6 tablespoons instant polenta. As soon as I had the polenta incorporated I added the pancetta/spinach/cheese mixture, a teeny bit of salt (because the pancetta has quite a bit) and freshly ground black pepper. I whisked very quickly. It took all of about 2 minutes for it to come together. I plopped it into a square plastic container and pressed it smooth. Into the freezer it went to quick cool.
(I do apologize for the quality of this picture. Once the polenta began browning it went so fast! I grabbed my camera and only had time for one picture. Of course it would turn out blurry. But you get the idea.) When the polenta had cooled and set up, I popped it out of the dish and cut it into pieces resembling steak fries. I heated peanut oil with a little splash of herbed olive oil that my dear friend Kathy Padova gave all of us at Andrea's bridal shower last weekend. (It's awesome-thank you, Kathy:-) And the frying commenced! I heated some leftover tomato sauce that I had in the fridge. This would have to do, even though it was no Bel-Lago housemade marinara.
I plated the fries on the sauce with a sprinkling of grated asiago. They were absolutely delicious! Bob totally adored them. We're planning a tapas style dinner and right then and there we decided these are a "must" for that menu.
So thanks to Bel-Lago for re-introducing me to an ingredient that I had pretty much decided I didn't like! They made their version sound so appetizing on the menu that I ventured to try something I previously had crossed off my "good food" list.
Next time you have something at a restaurant that is so good it haunts you and you think you might be able to recreate it, go for it! It's a rush! And you can have as much of it as you want without having to send the poor waitstaff back with order after order for more. (I so did not do that, even though I wanted to... Really! Ask Jane!)
Hmm...maybe I should have made the whole darn box of polenta afterall!