It is true, I have looked at you all this evening. Your beauty troubled me. Your beauty has grievously troubled me, and I have looked at you too much. But I will look at you no more. Neither at things, nor at people should one look. Only in mirrors should one look, for mirrors do but show us masks.
-Oscar Wilde (Salome)
I’m writing, writing, and writing these days–sometimes badly, sometimes well. The point, however, is that you just need to do it, to allow the bad days and poorly articulated thoughts to occur, and then hope that, when you go back to fix it, you’ll magically know how to turn it all into gold. To be honest, I’d even be willing to accept something gold-like. As they say, a dissertation moving in the direction of done is a good dissertation; sitting and being overly fastidious about each and every sentence, fact, thought and book that could prove to be just oh so important is a waste of one’s time. This, at least, is my philosophy today and I happen to think that it’s a good one.
With all this writing and searching for and analyzing images to go along with the verbal text (this week’s theme has been, unsurprisingly, Salome and the femme fatale: in short, how we move from Gustave Moreau’s Salome to a mere schoolboy in a geisha costume at a masquerade ball) , there’s not a lot of time for high maintenance recipes and two or three course fantabulously planned meals. Fortunately, this hasn’t been a problem. Ever since I got my copy of Barefoot Contessa At Home back (I was spreading the love by lending it to a friend), I’ve been inspired by the simple and delicious way that Ina Garten both prepares and presents her food. This cookbook and I go way back as, in my first year of graduate school when I decided I would conquer home-cooking and stop eating out like it was going out of style, I asked for it for Christmas. Ever since then we’ve had a happy relationship and not only have I given it as a gift to a dear friend who got married, but I’ve cooked many, many things from it and loved them all: Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars, Zucchini Cakes, Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes, Peach and Blueberry Crumbles…and, my go to recipe, Creamy Rosemary Polenta. You might even say that it’s one of my favorite cookbooks, beautifully photographed and accessible on a daily basis.
Just why is this my go to recipe? Well, a) who doesn’t like polenta (especially when it’s done right and, with this recipe, it can’t be anything but), b) it’s fast and filling and c) thanks to the rosemary, it’s intensely flavorful. It works nicely as a side dish (that is, if you don’t spoil the beautifully prepared meat you were trying to make; until cooked, it was a photographic winner, which you can see below!) and just as nicely as a main course. Also, it travels well and keeps. While I used to try to doctor this recipe and add things like spinach, cherry tomatoes and sometimes carrots to it, I’ve since stopped, realizing that, in trying to make it more vegetable friendly, I was ultimately hurting the flavor and preventing its rustic quality from shining through. Well, no more!
Simplicity and getting the job done are the new name of the game. In fact, I’ve been embracing this new philosophy so fully that I’ve decided that, instead of the usual mound of cookbooks sitting on my kitchen table, which as of late have been in deep competition with academic papers and books, I’m going to be cooking from only one cookbook or magazine at a time…You see, I get all these ideas and inspiration and then there’s not enough time in the day to do anything with them. So, for now, for the next week or so, Ina and I–along with Sologub, Moreau, Huysmans, Chekhov and co.–will be spending a lot of time together. In some odd way, I can’t help but think that, for me, in this very moment, it might not get any better than this. I truly believe that in times of trouble (real or imagined), there are always small and genuine pleasures to be found.
Creamy Rosemary Polenta
Slightly adapted from the Barefoot Contessa at Home
Yields 6 servings if a side dish and 4 if a main course
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I’ve done it with both and had good results)
3 cloves minced garlic
1 cup yellow cornmeal (medium grind)
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons good olive oil
3-4 teaspoons rosemary, freshly chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-Heat the chicken stock in a medium saucepan.
-Add the garlic and cook over medium-high heat until the stock comes to a boil.
-Reduce the heat to medium-low and very slowly add the cornmeal, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps.
-Switch to a wooden spoon and simmer over very low heat, stirring almost constantly, for 7-10 minutes until thick. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan while stirring.
– Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the cream cheese, Parmesan, rosemary, and salt & pepper.
-Stir until smooth.
-At this point, add the olive oil and mix to combine.
-Serve hot sprinkled with extra Parmesan cheese.