Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 24, 2022

© Con Poulos

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Dishes that are special and achievable for the season of entertaining

This deconstructed free-form dish looks as if everything was dropped into the bowl and just happened to fall in really nice places. It doesn’t appear fussed over by a chef, but is arranged in a pleasing, seemingly accidental way. The vegetables are all well caramelized to provide deep, rich flavour. The stems and roots are left on for a great farm-to-table effect. The polenta makes this a hearty first course that works equally well as a vegetarian main.

For the polenta
4 c. (1 L) vegetable stock or water
1 c. (250 ml) polenta
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp. (10 ml) chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp. (10 ml) coarse salt
½ tsp. (2.5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
nonstick cooking spray
olive oil, for frying

For the tomato broth
1 tbsp. (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
3 shallots, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed and roughly chopped
½ c. (125 ml) dry white wine
1 14-oz. (435 g) can tomatoes, diced or whole peeled
1½ c. (375 ml) vegetable stock
1 bunch of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the vegetables
4 yellow pattypan squash, halved
4 baby eggplants, halved
1 zucchini, cut into ½-in. (1.25 ml) rounds
4 cipollini onions, halved
8 maitake mushrooms
4 baby tomatoes on the vine, halved
4 ramps (wild leeks)
4 spring onions (red or white), halved
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

Pour the vegetable stock into a medium heavy saucepan (if using water instead of stock, add 1 teaspoon/5 ml kosher salt). Bring to a boil over medium heat and stream in the polenta while stirring constantly. Continue to stir until the polenta is completely combined and no lumps remain. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to stir until the polenta thickens. Cook, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until very thick, 30 to 45 minutes.

Add the lemon zest, thyme, and salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper sprayed with non-stick spray. Spoon the polenta, about 1/3 cup (80 ml) at a time, into free-form shapes on the parchment. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and sauté just until aromatic. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, stock, thyme and bay leaves. Bring the broth back to a boil; reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 1 hour, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl, discarding the solids.

Heat a 10- or 12-inch (25- or 30-cm) skillet over medium-high heat and fill it a quarter of the way with olive oil. Fry the polenta on both sides until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.

Season all of the vegetables with salt and pepper. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and add the oil. Reduce the heat to medium-high and, working in batches if necessary, give the vegetable pieces a nice hard sear by pressing them down with a spatula. Do not flip until the first side is a deep golden brown. The ramps will take only a few seconds in the pan to soften; do not overcook. Sear the maitake mushrooms a few minutes longer than the rest of the vegetables.

Return the broth to the saucepan to reheat. Place one piece of polenta on the plate and assemble the vegetables on top. Pour the broth around the bottom of the plate just before serving. Serves 8 as a first course; 4 as a main.

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