Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Minestrone with Tuscan Polenta Bread

Do you believe in love at first sight? I got that "love at first sight" feeling as I read the recipe for Tuscan Polenta Bread in the May edition of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. I was sitting at the breakfast table with my children, sipping my coffee and dodging Cheerios when my eyes locked on this recipe. Pancetta, sundried tomatoes, shallots, rosemary...I had to make it! With what? We certainly couldn't just eat bread for dinner, right? Hmmm. Well, an Italian sort of soup, of course. The coffee started working on my sleepy brain. it comes...Minestrone! Yes! That's it. It went on the meal plan.

It wasn't until this afternoon as I was bringing this recipe to life that it occurred to me that this is just the Italian food version of a good old favorite in our house: chili and cornbread. Duh. Do you know that saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? As far as we're concerned it applies to this meal. Next time, I'll stick with my good old chili and cornbread. It certainly wasn't horrible, totally edible (the baby actually loved it), but it didn't live up to my expectations. I love that Minestrone that I order in Italian restaurants. Light yet hearty, flavorful and savory. This one missed the mark a bit. It just wasn't restaurant quality. And that love-at-first-sight Tuscan Polenta Bread recipe? Well, maybe you remember a time when you had a big crush from afar on that special someone? And then by some miracle (or strategic flirting) that someone asked you out. Of course, you accepted the invitation, trying to hide your enthusiasm (Yes!yes!yes! Mental happy dance). That special someone showed up at your door, took you out...and you wanted it to work, you really did, but it was just, well...average? Ho-hum. Just not "THE ONE" (maybe this just happened to me...a couple of times). There was just no spark. Nothing. THAT is how I feel about this Tuscan Polenta Bread. I'm officially disenchanted. Still, I'm sharing these recipes here. Maybe you can improve upon them. Maybe my tastebuds are broken. I mean, geesh...pancetta, sundried tomatoes, shallots, rosemary...

First, let's start with the minestrone. Certainly, one thing that this recipe has going for it: it's super quick and easy. Dump,dump, dump. Maybe that was part of it's downfall. Here are the ingredients: beef broth, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, vegetable juice (I used Spicy V-8), stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, pasta, frozen soup veggies, Italian seasoning, and not pictured: sugar (because I forgot) and fresh spinach (because my husband had to pick it up at the grocery and he didn't make it home before I took the pic).

Combine the rinsed beans, broth, vegetable juice, tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and sugar. Bring it to a boil and then add the veggies, return to a boil, reduce heat, and cover and simmer for at least 10 minutes. I think that mine simmered for about 40 minutes while I waited for the spinach to arrive.

Cook 1 cup of pasta and add to your soup. I used this little tubular pasta, ditalini.

Then toss in 2 cups of chopped spinach and heat through.

Top with some freshly grated parmesean cheese.

All right. Now for the Tuscan Polenta Bread. The recipe calls for either pancetta or bacon. I went with the pancetta a)because I've never cooked with it before and I was curious and b)because I wanted it to be more "authentic". FYI: pancetta is more costly than bacon. Although, I'm not sure how "authentic" Pennsylvania pancetta is. According to the packaging, that's where this pancetta originated. I'll get to the bottom line here: bacon would have been fine in this, possibly better. To me, pancetta had more of a "pork" smell when it cooked (and I would know a pork smell, read about my pork expertise here). Also, pancetta is not smoked, which apparently is one of the reasons I love my bacon.

I fried my pancetta until crispy. Then, drained and set it aside to cool and crumble.

Next, I combined the dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Give em' a stir.

Now for the "wet" ingredients: I combined half and half, a couple of slightly beaten eggs, and a tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl.

I drained the sundried tomatoes and chopped them.

Add the crumbled pancetta, chopped sundried tomatoes, chopped shallot (I used green onion), and rosemary to the half and half mixture.

Dump the cornmeal mixture into the wet ingredients all at once.

Stir until just moistened.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the baking dish and place into the pre-heated 375 degree oven for 5 minutes.

Pour battered into heated dish and bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Your bread is done when it passes the toothpick test. That means, when you stick a toothpick into the center and pull it out, it comes out clean. No batter or crumbs hanging on.

Let's cut a slice.

Ah. There it is. Looks pretty, doesn't it? Kind of like piece o'savory fruitcake, minus the fruit. Wait, tomatoes are a fruit aren't they? Full of goodies. Remember? Pancetta, sundried tomatoes, shallots, rosemary... I'm still sad about it.

Here are the recipes, both from Better Homes and Gardens.


Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes

3 14-ounce cans beef broth
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1 14-1/2-ounce can stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 11-1/2-ounce can vegetable juice
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed
1-1/2 cups loose-pack frozen mixed vegetables (such as Italian blend)
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, cut into strips
2 cups cooked pasta, such as medium shell macaroni or mostaccioli
Finely shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. In a 4-quart Dutch oven combine beef broth, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, undrained tomatoes, vegetable juice, tomato paste, sugar, and Italian seasoning. Bring to boiling; add mixed vegetables. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

2. Stir in spinach and cooked pasta; heat through. If desired, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

3. Makes 8 servings (12 cups)

4. Make-ahead directions: Prepare as above through Step 1, except cover and chill overnight. To serve, reheat soup over medium heat. Stir in spinach and cooked pasta; heat through.

Nutrition Facts
Calories 223, Total Fat (g) 2, Saturated Fat (g) 0, Monounsaturated Fat (g) 0, Polyunsaturated Fat (g) 1, Cholesterol (mg) 0, Sodium (mg) 1152, Carbohydrate (g) 43, Total Sugar (g) 6, Fiber (g) 8, Protein (g) 11, Vitamin A (DV%) 0, Vitamin C (DV%) 48, Calcium (DV%) 8, Iron (DV%) 18, Starch (d.e.) 2, Vegetables (d.e.) 2, Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Weight Watcher's Points per 1 1/2 cups: only 4! Eat up!

Tuscan Polenta Bread

Prep: 25 min.
Bake: 30 min.

1-1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-3/4 cups half-and-half or light cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
9 slices bacon or 3/4 cup chopped pancetta, crisp-cooked and drained
1 8-oz. jar oil-packed dried tomatoes, drained and snipped
1 Tbsp. chopped shallot
1 Tbsp. snipped fresh rosemary
Butter, softened (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees��F. In medium bowl stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or a 9x1-1/2-inch round baking pan. Place in oven for 5 minutes. Remove skillet or pan from oven; carefully swirl oil in pan to coat bottom and sides of pan.

2. Meanwhile, for batter, in large bowl combine half-and-half, eggs, and remaining oil. Crumble bacon. Stir tomatoes, bacon, shallot, and rosemary into egg mixture until combined. Add cornmeal mixture all at once to egg mixture. Stir just until moistened. Pour batter into hot skillet or pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cut in wedges. Serve warm with softened butter. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Nutrition Facts
Calories 367, Total Fat (g) 18, Saturated Fat (g) 6, Monounsaturated Fat (g) 9, Polyunsaturated Fat (g) 2, Cholesterol (mg) 82, Sodium (mg) 553, Carbohydrate (g) 46, Total Sugar (g) 3, Fiber (g) 2, Protein (g) 11, Vitamin C (DV%) 49, Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Weight Watcher's Points: 8 pts. per slice. My person analysis: save your calories!


Mary | Deep South Dish said...

Mmmmmmm and it looks really good too!

Anonymous said...

Dodging Cheerios - I remember those days. :-)

I've made my share of disenchanted recipes. Guess it happens to all of us at some point.

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