I am not Italian. K is not Italian. But, then again, some of the Top Chef All-Star contestants are Italian and they did not excel in the “make Italian food at New York’s most exclusive Italian restaurant for Central Casting Italian stereotypes” challenge. We’ve seen The Sopranos, how hard could this be?
We chose to make two winning dishes — Fabio’s Pollo Alla Cacciatora (chicken cacciatore) and Tiffany’s polenta terrine. Once again we recognized a role for our much-loved crock pot. Instead of making sauce, cooking chicken, soaking it in wine overnight and pressure cooking it the next day (as the recipe called for), I sautéed the chicken and put it into the crock pot with tomatoes, onions, red wine, mushrooms, capers and oregano. I skipped the olives because K doesn’t like them. Put the lid on and move on with life while Italian dinner goodness simmers for a few hours.
While the chicken was bubbling away, K started on the filling for the polenta terrine. He sautéed some spicy Italian sausage, chopped and lightly sautéed some kale and chopped up roasted red and yellow peppers. Meanwhile, I’d put course ground polenta (instant gets too gummy and they didn’t have medium ground at the store) in the pot with chicken stock and milk. And stirred and stirred and stirred then added more liquid then stirred some more.
After what seemed like an interminably long time, the polenta was tender enough to be considered finished. We have one bread loaf pan and it’s from Ikea which means it’s extra long for some reason. I poured some polenta in the bottom of the bread pan and realized we would not have enough polenta to make three layers — barely enough for two. If the bread pan had been shorter, this wouldn’t have been a problem. I stuck the bread pan with steaming polenta outside (in -12 degrees) to set and it quickly did. Then I layered on the kale, sausage and peppers. Then I put the (scant) remaining polenta on top and it didn’t cover everything. We had more of a sad polenta sandwich instead of terrine. I put the loaf pan back outside to set as K cut tomatoes and I tore up basil and cut fresh mozzarella for the salad (dressed with a simple oil/balsamic vinaigrette).
The cacciatore recipe seemed to call for crisped chicken skin (that was before soaking it in wine, so who knows) so K attempted to quick crisp the skin in a saute pan, but the pieces kept falling apart. I attempted to cut the “terrine,” but because the polenta didn’t cover the sides of the loaf pan all the insides kept falling out. I cobbled together a few pieces, sprinkled them with a little parmesan and browned them in the toaster oven.
So … Tony Soprano and Paulie Walnuts probably wouldn’t have been satisfied. The chicken cacciatore was good — very tender and flavorful, but I hadn’t reduced the wine before putting it into the crock pot so there was a strong wine/ slightly astringent flavor to it. The polenta was a bit too dense and the ingredients just didn’t come together. The sausage was a bit too spicy for me (K liked the spice level), the peppers got lost, the kale was too bitter. We may have been better off just making polenta and tossing the ingredients into it. The simple caprese salad, however, was terrific and a fresh reminder that the tastes of summer are (hopefully) just around the corner.
Next time we’re looking for an Italian food fix, we’ll stick with lasagna.