Gluten free silverbeet, herb and polenta pie for Easter

Sending the Yak to the superdoopermarket/green grocers is a hit and miss thing. He is very good at buying utilitarian dried goods (think loo paper, environmentally friendly toilet cleaner in the shape of a duck or gluten free taco shells) but one has to be extremely specific when it comes to fruit and vegetables.

Point in case….I once asked for some green beans. He came back with eight, yes eight, (count them people) individual green beans. I could have created an art installation from them but finding a way to incorporate eight beans into a recipe was a tad beyond my imagination.

When pondering a vegetarian gluten free recipe as part of a shared Easter celebration, I lovingly reminisced upon the traditional spanokopita. That wonderful Greek pie consisting of silverbeet or spinach, ricotta, feta, herbs and flaky layers of pastry. Pastry that The Yak can no longer partake of. Thinking cap placed firmly atop of my noggin, I thunked. Perhaps a polenta crust atop a semi-traditional spinach pie would be quite the treat? (Or a total disaster.)

Curiosity led me to pondering the Greek connection between ground corn and food. Googlebumbling revealed that ground corn has indeed been used in Greek cooking in various ways for several hundred years. It possibly arrived in Greece, courtesy of the Turkish Ottoman Empire by way of Africa. Amongst other uses, it is sprinkled atop leafy green pies or placed underneath to soak up the juices. I have added the link to the very interesting article, after the photos in this post.

Once upon a time, I used to favour a spanokopita recipe by Matthew Evans (a former chef and food critic, now television host). It contained an abundance of herbs, leafy greens and cheese. Having lost this recipe, I now make it merely from memory. (Not the most reliable of sources.) Do not freak out at the amount of herbs in this recipe. It seems a lot but it works. Need it be said, The Yak did not do the shopping for this dish.

This pie is audaciously herbaceous. The salty hits of feta and kefalograviera (a salty Greek hard sheeps milk cheese), combined with the slightly sweet corn polenta, balance the meadowy punch in the face. But this is the kind of face punch that you happily go back for.

Sadly I missed out on the actual abundant Easter feast itself due to Kid 2 and a tummy bug. However, I did get to eat leftovers of this pie. I poured myself a glass of vino, tucked in and pretended I was on a Greek island somewhere. (In a place where stomach viruses did not exist.)

SILVERBEET, HERB AND POLENTA PIE

WHAT YOU NEED
2 tbl olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 bunch spring onion, finely chopped
1 big bunch chopped silverbeet, trim the woody ends and use the leafy greens and some of the softer stem. (I had roughly 700g once trimmed of stalks.)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
6 Eggs, beaten
300g Ricotta
200g Feta, crumbled
1 bunch mint, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 bunch dill, chopped
Zest of one lemon and juice for the silverbeet
1 tsp Salt
Pepper

Polenta Crust
1.5 cups instant polenta
5 cups water
1 1/2 tbl butter
120g kefalograviera cheese (Use 1/4 cup to add to the polenta and the rest to sprinkle on top of the pie.)

HOW YOU DO IT
In a large frypan, sauté the chopped onion for a few minutes until they start to become translucent, add the chopped spring onions, sauté for one minute.
Remove the mixture from the pan into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool.
Re-heat the pan to a medium heat, add the chopped silverbeet along with a big squeeze of lemon and cook, stirring regularly until it has wilted and most of the liquid has evaporated. When it has cooled, squeeze out any remaining liquid.
Into the large bowl containing the onion mixture, add the silverbeet, nutmeg, beaten eggs, ricotta, feta, chopped herbs, lemon zest, salt and a few big grinds of black pepper, as much as you fancy. (I am not the pepper police!)
Mix well, taste and check for seasoning.
Smooth this mixture into a large oiled baking dish, I use a 3 litre rectangular Pyrex dish.
Preheat the oven to 180 C if you are cooking the dish immediately.
Polenta Crust
For the polenta. Heat the water in a medium saucepan until it just starts to boil. Using a whisk, slowly pour in the polenta, continuing to whisk. This is important as it avoids lumpy polenta.
Change to a wooden spoon, turn the heat to low and continue to cook the polenta, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes. Add the butter and 1/4 cup of the kefalograviera, it should be of a spreadable consistency.
Remove the polenta from the heat and immediately, spread it over the silverbeet, herb and egg mixture.
Let cool for ten minutes. Sprinkle the remaining kefalograviera cheese on top, and bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown on top. (You can also place the pie in the fridge if you are cooking the next day.)
Let the pie rest for about 15-20 minutes until it has set a little bit.
Serve with a green salad, or roasted veggies.
Cooking Notes: silverbeet is also know as chard. If you cannot find Kefalograviera, use Pecorino, Parmesan or Gruyere.

A Cheergerm creation

http://www.dianekochilas.com/when-greeks-do-corn/

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kefalograviera


A side of herb polenta bake and an aside

Yak: You are a good lad, will you look after me when I am old?
Kid 2: Probably, but I might be somewhere else.
Me: Kid 2, if I were you, I would start running now. Unfortunately, I have nowhere left to run.

This hearty side of polenta is magnificent Yak food. It helps trick convince The Yak into feeling like he is not ‘missing out’. There is very little that this side dish doesn’t go with. We have scoffed it down with a ratatouille like vegetarian sauce as well as a creamy braised mushroom dish. It goes beautifully with a myriad of casseroles or good piece of meat or fish. Breakfast for dinner? Try it with a fried or poached egg and some steamed asparagus.

Chuck in whatever herb combination tickles your fancy. No fresh herbs? Then throw in a teaspoon of dried Italian herbs and let them steep in the stock whilst it comes to the boil. This version has parsley, thyme and a smidgen of sage. In the time it took me to prepare the thyme (boom tish) for this dish, my lads had gone to high school, got degrees, travelled the world and started families. Picking the leaves off thyme is one of the worst kitchen jobs. I would love to say I find it meditative but I don’t.

Take note if you will, of the beautiful wooden board that this polenta sits upon. Uncle R, a veritable goldmine of funny and punny one liners and the master of the ‘aside’ made this for me back in 1993. Whilst staying in Christchurch, NZ, with the always hospitable Uncle R and Aunty L, we took a day trip to Akaroa and stopped in at French Farm winery for a snack with flavour. Some of the food was served upon divine wooden boards that were labelled ‘French Farm Vineyards’. I admired them greatly and Uncle R, a collector of bits of wood (as well as of puns) said ‘Don’t worry niece, I shall make you a board just as nice as this one.’ (He would have said this in a silly voice, cause that’s how he rolls.)

Back at their house, he whipped up a piece of kauri (wood) into this gorgeous wee board, copying the details from the one back at the vineyard. It is exactly the same as the original version I had coveted. Bar one thing. It’s made with the love, care and thoughtful detail of my uncle, and it is far better than anything I could have ever purchased for myself. And that my friends, is something that you just don’t get bored of.

GARLIC AND HERB POLENTA BAKE

WHAT YOU NEED
1 cup gluten free veggie stock and 2 cups water (the original recipe calls for 3 cups of stock but I find it too salty for my taste.)
1 cup instant polenta
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, sage, thyme, oregano) this is a bit flexible I have also used 1-2 to 1 cup with great results.
3 tbl grated Parmesan
30g butter
Salt to taste
3 tbl grated Parmesan extra for topping

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 15cm x 15cm baking dish with baking paper. I use a larger one and it makes a wedge of polenta that is about 22cm x 18cm and 3cm high.)
Bring the stock and water to the boil in a medium saucepan.
Pour in the polenta and cook over a medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, the mixture should be very thick.
Stir in the garlic, chopped herbs, parmesan and butter and taste for seasoning.
Pour/spread the mixture into the baking dish. Smooth the surface and sprinkle with the extra Parmesan.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.
Cut into triangles, squares or into whatever damn crazy shape you wish.
Serves 8 with one piece each.

Recipe from The Gluten-free Kitchen by Sue Shepherd

http://frenchfarm.co.nz/wordpress/


Baked polenta pie and carking it

The following is a recentish conversation with Kid 1. The exact origins of how it began are murky. He may have been talking about living in our house once the Yak and myself had shuffled off this mortal coil.

Me: That can wait until you bury me in the cold hard ground.
Kid 1: Would you rather be buried or incinerated?
Me: Eek! Incinerated!? I hope you mean cremated?
Kid 1: Yes, yes! Actually, I think I will mount your head on the wall, hang on, maybe I will put you in a glass coffin like Snow White!
Me: Ummm…cremation will suffice thanks kiddo.

There is absolutely no way of linking this discussion to our recent ‘early Easter mums birthday family get together.’ Except that if you were to eat like this every day, you probably would shuffle off to an early grave. These events are no mean affairs, everyone contributes joyfully and the table groans from the weight of a feast fit for a King. That day we began with varying cheeses and crackers served with a nutty, rich fruit paste. Next was roast lamb, cauliflower cheese, potato bake, polenta pie and a green salad. To finish, a fruit platter the size of a small baby, lemon meringue cheesecake (to die for) and a decadent chocolate cake (both gluten free).

This vegetarian polenta pie is a great ‘big group gathering dish’, as it makes a motza. It’s an adaptation of a recipe from Two Peas and a Pod, a delightful food blog with tonnes of varied recipes. It’s a bit like a lasagna, without the pasta and white sauce. Polenta is cornmeal that is boiled into a hearty porridge (sounds scrumptious?) then eaten directly or baked, fried or grilled. It is gluten free so it’s a great ingredient for Silly Yaks.

(Ps whenever I do ‘pass onto the next realm’, can someone (anyone) please ensure I don’t end up hung ‘moose like’ on the wall or spend eternity on display in a glass box?)

Baked vegetarian polenta pie

YOU NEED
4 tbl olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 medium red pepper, diced
1 large eggplant, peeled and diced into 3cm dice
2 medium zuchinni, diced 2 cm dice
200g mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes (leave out if you choose to)
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
2 tins (400g) crushed/diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves roughly chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups shredded/grated mozarella

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and lightly oil a 3 litre baking dish.

The sauce
Sauté onion and red pepper in olive oil for a few minutes.
Add eggplant, cook stirring for 2 minutes, add the zuchinni, cook 3 minutes.
Add the mushrooms, chilli, fennel, garlic and oregano. Stir for a minute or two.
Add tomato, water and season with salt and pepper.
Cook for 30-40 minutes until vegetables are tender and sauce is reduced and silky. Remove from heat and stir in the basil.

Polenta
1.5 cups instant polenta
4.5 cups milk
1.5 tbl butter
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper

Place the milk, butter, sugar, salt and a few grinds of black pepper into a large saucepan and bring to a light simmer.
Using a whisk, slowly add the polenta to the pot, whisking constantly. When the polenta starts to thicken swap the whisk for a spoon.
Once the polenta pulls away from the pot, add half of the Parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Remove from the heat.

Assembling the pie
Spread the polenta into the baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
Pour the tomato vegetable sauce over the polenta and top with the mozarella.
Bake in a moderate oven for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.
Rest for ten minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

It goes beautifully with a crisp, green salad and leftovers of this dish are fantastic the next day.

Adapted from Two Peas in a Pod. Go here for the original recipe:
http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/baked-polenta-pie/