Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Local in Rhode Island: Italian Rules

I am back in Rhode Island, and some things never change. This past week, our twice-mayor (6 terms in bundles of three)—and twice-convicted/once jailed-- talk show host, and pasta sauce entrepreneur Buddy Cianci announced he will run for another mayoral term. The legislature voted calamari the official state appetizer. Note the themes: food, corruption, Italian.

So for my son’s birthday I made a typical Rhode Island Italian meal. I was going to do the squid, but forgot to get it on my shopping trip, so for appetizers we had some Italian cheeses, some perfect melon and imported San Daniele prosciutto di Parma, and some wild shrimp with an orange-mustard-tarragon sauce. And Americanos for drinks. For the main course, for a special dinner in Rhode Island Italian world you want to start with some giant veal chops from Venda Ravioli (Costantino’s). I cooked them on the grill and served them with a little roasted garlic and sage butter, accompanied by grilled veggies (red peppers, zucchini, yellow crookneck, and radicchio) with reduced balsamic and thyme, and a very Rhode Island jonnycake polenta. A nice Fossacolle Rosso de Montalcino. Had to buy dessert (horrors) because the cooking equipment I’d ordered to make a cake was inadvertently shipped to Arizona. But it was good. 

So I just said that some things never change, but, you know, some do. I am not in Little Compton this summer. I’m on Conanicut Island—Jamestown—in the middle of Narragansett Bay between Newport and the mainland, or as we say here, between West and East Bay. As master of the neither here nor there, the generally at sea, I am perhaps unsurprisingly right at home. It is, after all, almost as old a Rhode Island settlement as Little Compton, and still Newport County. A short sail away.

Rhode Island Jonnycake Pan-fried Polenta

I used Kenyon’s meal for this; you can use any of our RI stoneground white flint cornmeals. You can, of course, serve the cooked polenta soft, with butter and parm, or tomato sauce and/or some sausage and mushrooms. Serves 4.

1 cup RI johnnycake cornmeal
4 cups water, approx.
2 T butter
2 tea salt
Freshly ground pepper

In a 3-qt saucepan (nonstick is useful if you have one), whisk about 1 ½ cups water into the cornmeal, then whisk in the additional 2 ½ c water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring fairly continuously. It will begin to thicken rather quickly. Be careful not to splatter yourself as it reaches a boil. Stir in the salt, butter, and pepper. Reduce the heat and let it simmer/heave for about 45 minutes; it will have the consistency of mashed potatoes, and pull from the bottom of the pan.

If you plan to pan-fry it, pour the polenta into an ungreased glass pie plate or 8” square pan. Let stand for about ten minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm—a few hours, or overnight. Cut into wedges, squares, or diamonds, dredge lightly in seasoned flour, and fry in a little olive oil or butter or olive oil until nicely golden. Serve immediately. 

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