Adrienne Gajownik

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Polenta cakes + braised chard with roasted red pepper pesto

A few years ago I was introduced to romesco sauce. Roasted peppers, almonds, hazelnuts, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, a slice of leftover bread, and olive oil. Wow! I fell in love with the bold, delicious flavor. I made a small batch of Deb's romesco sauce recently, eating it on everything in sight. So you'll understand why I'm so excited about this week's Food Matters Project recipe: roasted red pepper and walnut pesto.
This recipe is a combination of romesco and pesto. I adapted the recipe by using parsley instead of basil and walnut oil instead of walnuts (husband allergic to raw olive oil). I also added in some chipotle chilies. I think you can eat this on almost anything. I stirred it into a bowl of hot brown rice and black beans, drizzled it on my eggs, and stuffed it between my polenta cakes with braised chard and roasted tomatoes. Oh and it's a perfect spread for a sandwich or dip for vegetables.

Feel free to use store-bought roasted red peppers, but I'd recommend roasting your own (especially when peppers are in season). I roasted my peppers in the oven until they softened, almost falling apart, and were browned on each side.

Roasted red pepper pesto
Adapted from Mark Bittman
5 red peppers (can skip this step and buy store-bought)
2 small dried chipotle peppers
1/2 c walnuts
1/2 c parsley
1/2 tsp paprika
2 garlic cloves
1.5 tbsp white wine balsamic vinegar
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1/4 c walnut oil

Preheat oven to 450. Place red peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes. Don't worry if the pepper falls apart. Remove from heat, place into a large plastic bag, and let cool. Once cooled, remove peppers from the bag and peel the skin.

Add red peppers, chipotle peppers, walnuts, parsley, paprika, garlic, and vinegar to the food processor. Blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle in the walnut oil and blend for another 15 seconds. Remove and enjoy immediately or refrigerate. Yields about a cup.
I brought back some polenta from our trip to NYC last weekend. I purchased it at the lovely Marlow & Daughters in Williamsburg. I had some amazing polenta cakes a few weeks ago and was itching to make some at home. I decided to try Bittman's recipe for polenta cakes.
Baked polenta cakes
Adapted from Mark Bittman
1 c polenta
2.5 c water
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp chili pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Add polenta, herbs, spices, and water to a pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring often. If it's too thick, add more water. Turn off the heat and pour polenta onto a greased baking sheet or 9 x 9 in. dish. Spread with a spatula until it's about an inch thick. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375. Get out the refrigerated polenta. Cut into triangles, squares, or use a biscuit cutter to cut into circles. Put polenta cakes onto an oiled or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until they start to brown lightly on each side.

Remove from heat and top with pesto, braised swiss chard, and roasted cherry tomatoes (or whatever you like). My cakes were a little on the thin side, so I stacked them. Next time I'll make them thicker. Oh and if you prefer them a bit crunchier, pan fry them instead of baking.