Crostini with Ricotta and Goat Cheese
Tuna with Roasted Cipolline Onions
Polenta with Arugula
To get the recipes:
Giada's having her friend Hilary visit for the weekend. After a long drive, she wants to give her a little snack, while they catch up. Let's be honest, she's probably just being practical. She wants their stomachs nicely lined with a bit of protein (cheese) and carbs (the crostini) before the night of heavy drinking and clubbing she has planned. This is LA, after all.
She makes the crostini. Whoa there...she's making so many, maybe the party's at her house with the boys from Chippendales. The dip looks good - goat cheese and ricotta. She's only using a 1/4 cup of ricotta. To be honest, I'm thinking she could use part skim ricotta here, unless it has something to do with the whole getting-ready-for-drinking thing (that I've been imagining in my sick head.) Very attractive plating of the crostini and dip. They enjoy it alfresco with a glass of rosé .
They go to the supermarket to pick up what they need for dinner. Giada gets some tuna and Hilary asks what she will be doing with it. Giada says, "I'm just going to marinate it with a little bit of thyme and lemon and then we're going to grill it off, so it's going to be really clean...really simple." Is this my imagination or was there a shadow of disappointment that crossed Hilary's face as she thought, "I drove over FIVE HOURS for THAT!!!???" She's thinking if I wanted "clean" flavor, I'd eat a sandwich in a laundromat...They leave the store and go home to "cook", if throwing fish on a grill can be called cooking.
Happily, the menu is a little more involved and it does sound good. The cipolline onions are boiled and peeled and then cooked in olive oil and balsamic vinegar (you don't need an expensive one for this, Giada reminds us) at 450 for one hour. This is a wonderfully EASY dish, and now that I'm thinking about it, it would be a PERFECT Thanksgiving side dish. You could boil the onions a day in advance, and, as long as you have room in your oven, it would be a cinch to prepare. You could adjust the cooking temperature, if you had other stuff to go in at the same time. I kind of think it's the HOUR of cooking time that's more important than the temperature, but don't go lower than 375 deg. F.
Now, they're on to the polenta with arugula. Giada's letting Hilary do the stirring. Her recipe calls for gradually adding the polenta to the boiling liquid. If you're happy doing that, then by all means continue. But I sometimes have lumping problems (I don't talk about it a lot, but there you have it.) So I put the cornmeal in the pot and gradually add the liquid (cold or at room temperature) and THEN begin to cook it, stirring all the time, and I have no problems.
Giada tells Hilary that her Aunt Raffi always told her she had to stir the polenta in one direction. She whispers to the camera that she doesn't really think it makes a difference. That rebel Hilary suggests stirring it the other way and as she does, they go to a break. Maybe Aunt Raffi called to give them hell. Now you're probably thinking that this was the shocking incident in this episode, but, no, my friends, you must wait for the infamy that takes place later in the kitchen.
The polenta is finished up without incident. Giada adds chopped garlic (Cook's Illustrated Magazine has reported that the fullest flavor of garlic is achieved when it is PRESSED through a garlic press. That makes me VERY happy, because I've been advocating garlic presses for years now.)
Anyway, garlic, arugula, lots of butter, cream and cheese are stirred in. The recipe notes that the 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese is optional. Include it in, the dish needs it. Have more ready to serve on the side. The polenta will be nice and creamy, but it really needs the cheese for flavor.
Tuna is up. Despite my initial misgivings, it's a perfect way to treat the tuna to go with the very rich polenta. It's marinated in only lemon juice, olive oil and fresh thyme. If you don't have fresh, don't use dried thyme. Substitute any fresh herb, even parsley will do.
Here's a place that could be tricky. Giada rightly started the onions at the beginning of the show, because they take an hour. However, the recipe says to start the onions and MEANWHILE to prepare the marinade for the fish. Ok, do that, but DON'T MARINATE THE FISH FOR LONGER THAN 5 MINUTES ON EACH SIDE. The lemon juice will "cook" the fish and you'll have a nice seviche, but TONIGHT you want to grill the fish.
The meal is served. (Why does the silverware look like shovels?) They have done a very nice job, but they don't even allude to the wild night ahead. I really hope that stirring the polenta the wrong way isn't the craziest thing they do all weekend.
Apparently, the night was survived and Hilary is leaving after breakfast. (Was it something she said?) Giada is making lovely sounding ricotta pancakes. She's beginning to chat about the recipe. She's stirring vanilla extract into water. I'm thinking that's a bit weird, that you don't always have to use whole milk or cream, like the Contessa does, but isn't WATER taking it a bit far? And then...and then...I can barely bring myself to share this with you, because I don't want you to think badly of our Giada...BUT the water is for a pancake mix...there I said it. Giada De Laurentiis, granddaughter of Dino, daughter of Veronica and Alex, niece to Raffaella De Laurentiis, is using pancake mix.!!! Seriously, I'm shocked. Who is she - Giada "Lee" of Sem-EYE-Eye-Talian? Giada, you went to the Cordon Bleu, you're not allowed to use pancake mix, at least not in public.
Through my haze of tears and rage, I see that she's mixing in ricotta (make sure it's at room temperature.) Oh, it hardly matters now...The flavored water is added. So that's what we're reduced to...flavoring the water to try to improve the taste of a pancake mix. I check out the recipe and they obviously have tried to finesse their way out of this by suggesting you use the fancy schmancy Krusteaz brand. You and I both know what will really be used by people who use such things.
Now she's going to "MAKE THE SYRUP" - mix water and sugar to make a simple syrup and to flavor it, she's adding honey. You're MAKING the syrup, but using pancake MIX? THIS DOES NOT COMPUTE. She plates the pancakes as she makes the others. No, No, No! Not on a cold plate. They'll lose heat faster than Uncle Ernie's bald head. Put them in a warm oven or even a toaster oven on low heat. Things seem to be falling apart fast here. WHAT could have transpired after dinner last night, that would force Giada to perform with such disrepute?
The pancakes are served to a grateful guest. Ooh, she must have done something to our petite Italian hostess. (Maybe, she questioned Grandpa's judgement in producing Barbarella). The pancakes do LOOK good, but I'm telling you that if you make them with pancake mix - who are we fooling?...let's just utter the name of the infidel BISQUICK - they will taste salty and no amount of delicately flavored honey syrup will fix that.
I'm exhausted. My senses are depleted. I must demonstrate my obeisance to the gods of the stove to make up for Giada's disgrace. I will retire into the kitchen. I will be there for many days. I think I'll start by making a true consommé. After I've browned the bones and the fine dice of vegetables has come off my newly sharpened knife, I will simmer and stir and skim and finally pour the ambrosial liquid through a mass of stiffly beaten egg whites that will clarify the stock and purify my spirit all at once. Giada, the culinary spirits will be sated. THAT I promise you. But you are honor bound never again to cross that line of expediency that sacrifices excellence.