Polenta Napoleon with Fig Compote and Feta
Today there has been very little physical activity as I begin the process of recovering from the marathon flurry of scrambling to prepare for our Edible Alien Theatre show “In Profundus”. It is incredible what can happen when there are deadlines, especially when 109 people signed up to see what it is that you have been promising. A remarkable amount can be pulled together in the final 72 hours!
There will eventually be a page for the show on the E.A.T. website, but for now let’s soak in some of the sumptuous visuals from the weekend’s exploits of performance-art-with-food. The setting was a 30’s-ish crumbling hotel called The Depths Inn that once had been ornate, but jungle vines and entropy have long since moved in.
We built an ‘elevator’ to transport the diners downward to The Depths Inn.
The meals for E.A.T. fit the shape of the act that they followed.
The first course (Polenta Napoleon with Fig Compote and Feta) was a square shape served on a square plate, drizzled with chive oil and a pureed roasted red pepper.
The second course (GF Beef Nihari or Pea Potato Mango Samosas, Lentil Dal, and Greens sauteed with Ginger and Lemon) was a triangular shape on a triangular plate.
Dessert (Pumpkin Coconut Cardamom Custard and Raspberry Coulis) was served in a round ramekin.
We called these the Rorschach Inkblot plates, made by the Driftless Artists’ Collective (DArtCo).
The Infinite Kitchen was the Restaurant inside The Depths Inn.
I could go on and on about all of this…but let’s get to the food!
Polenta is one of my favorite foods for catering. It is relatively easy to make (other than that you must stand and stir for 20 minutes), it can be made ahead of time, most flavors go with it, it holds patiently for hours once heated, and it has a glowing cheery golden color.
And at my location (just outside of the middle of nowhere) I can get locally grown organic polenta that was raised 20 miles away.
Polenta needs to be cooked slowly for 15-20 minutes as it transforms into a gelatinous muck that takes a little upper arm muscle to stir. But don’t skimp on the cooking time! It’s very crucial to let it slowly absorb the moisture, and you don’t want a grainy polenta.
The glowing yellow mush will begin to bubble and can spout hot lava — be careful not to let this land on your skin.
Have your pans oiled and ready because once the polenta is removed from the heat it will start to congeal quickly.
Let it sit for a short while, then cut into the desired shapes and sizes—I liked the size of 2″ x 2″ squares for a starter course. Then either cover and refrigerate the polenta for later use, or bake it.
Figs—I love to rehydrate figs with a little fruit juice or alcohol. Tuaca is my favorite, but I’ve used rum, white wine, red wine and port. They don’t need to be covered in the liquid, just enough to moisten them. Once they have rested in the liquid for a while, I heat them to soften them even more and to let the alcohol cook off.
Feta—Black pepper and olive oil are fabulous partners with feta, but you could also add fresh herbs like: parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary. Mix it all by hand, or pulse chop in a food processor.
The adorable little green things are Microgreens from River Root Farm: pea tendrils, and baby beet, mustard and broccoli.
Prep Time: 30-40 minutes Cooking Time: 20 minutes to cook, 40-50 minutes to bake
Assembly Time: 20 minutes
Oil two 9×13 pans.
If you are adding vegetables at the end, saute or roast them before beginning the cooking process.
Heat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot:
10 cups Water or Stock
1 – 1 1/2 tsp Salt
6 Tbsp Butter
2-3 tsp Garlic
When liquid is simmering, pour in slowly while stirring:
3 1/2 cups Polenta
Stir constantly for 15-20 minutes. Be careful of the scalding lava bubbles that erupt!
When done cooking, turn off heat and add:
1 cup Parmesan Cheese
1 cup Any minced cooked veggies that you may want to add—-roasted corn, sauteed onions and celery, chipotle peppers, etc.
Stir in and immediately pour the still-soft polenta into the oiled pans.
Use a rubber spatula to scrape out the saucepan and to smooth everything out.
You have only a short amount of time before the polenta sets up, so don’t procrastinate!
Once set up, slice the polenta into the desired shape and let it cool.
Cover with plastic wrap or a towel once cooled, then store refrigerated up to 3 days.
2 cups Figs
Put in a heavy sauce pan and add:
1/4 – 1/2 cup Alcohol of your choice: Rum, Tuaca, White Wine — I had rum so that is what I used
1/2 cup Tart Fruit Juice such as Cranberry, Tart Cherry, or Pomegranate
Let soak for at least an hour, stirring occasionally as they become rehydrated.
Turn on low heat to let the alcohol steam off.
Let cool, then pulse chop in a food processor.
1 pound Feta
1/4 cup Olive Oil
Black Pepper, freshly ground, to taste
Assembling the Polenta Napoleon
Cut the polenta into desired shape, if you haven’t done it already.
Bake the polenta in a 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes.
Remove pieces, slice in half, and spread fillings inside.
Warm in oven until ready to serve or serve at room temperature.