Friday, May 4, 2012

Bacon Studded Polenta with Tomato Gravy - Ciao, Yawl!

Bacon Studded Polenta with Tomato Gravy~
Some of us were born to color outside the lines, inside the lines and sometimes draw our own lines.  Combining Italian Polenta with crispy bacon bits, then smothering it with a deep Southern Tomato Gravy is one of those meals where the lines between the countries get blurred.  What comes out of this marriage of "Ciao and Chow" is good country eating, no matter what country you're talking about.
And speaking of countries, this month the Lets Lunch Bunch (my virtual lunch buddies from all over the globe) are celebrating a very special debut of a new cookbook:

Ellise (Cowgirl Chef) is a true Texan who has been living, learning, teaching, growing and loving in Paris, France for the last few years.  Her story of how she embraced her authentic and true self, talents and dreams by meeting the challenge of a brand new environment is inspiring (and the recipes are down right "must-makes.")  Ellise is one of the original foodbloggers to start our unique monthly lunch meeting online several years ago.  I was there for the very first one and we all made our own versions of a BLT sandwich.  It's a great example of one of the good things that come from our tech-driven journey.
This month's challenge was to create and share a meal that represented our own past experiences and another country, too (ala: Texas and France.)  

Picking something Italian was a no-brainer for me.  I've been obsessed with all things Italian for many years and will be fortunate enough to be packing this week to visit our good friends in Cossignano, Italy and stay at their Organic Agriturismo (Fiorano.)  Paolo and Paola are part of the Slow Food Movement and are very active in Organic wines, foods and conservation. 
Agriturismo Fiorano in Le Marche
I speak a little Italian from years of studying and soaking it up, although it seems to be with a good ol' Southern twang no matter how hard I try to pretend.

My grandmothers in North Carolina made Tomato Gravy and poured it over biscuits, toast, rice and grits.  It's a poor man's marinara sauce and it's packed with tomato bits, bacon flavor and rich roux.
Polenta is ground corn meal and considered an Italian comfort food.  Depending on the region, it's served warm and loose like soupy grits, or thick and cut into sections or even baked.  If you've seen the pre-made tubes of something they call Polenta in grocery stores, please don't judge Polenta by that gross congealed yellow tube food product (smiling, but serious.)  

Making Polenta is as easy as rice. There are just a few tips for making it successfully:

1)  When the liquid begins to simmer, rain in the Polenta grains.  This means do NOT pour it all in (that makes it clump.)  Rain it in, sprinkling it gradually and stirring while it goes.

2)  Reduce heat and stir often so not to scorch the Polenta.

3)  Keep in mind, it's easy to add a little more liquid if it's too thick, but not so easy to make it thicker if you add too much liquid too quickly.

4)  Adding butter makes it a little bit looser, cheese will make it a bit thicker.

The liquid used in Polenta, like rice, can be water or stock, milk, or something in your imaginative recipe developing "coloring book."

When I made this Bacon Studded Polenta smothered in Tomato Gravy, I also ate almost the whole plate of it.  So, be careful. :D

Check below to see the many varied and delectable recipes of country fusion cooking from other Let's Lunch pals: 

Chery's Goin Pork Curry Tacos at Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Eleanor‘s  Wok Picadillo at Wok Star
Ellise‘s Salty Lime Sabl├ęs (Margarita Cookies) at Cowgirl Chef
Emma‘s Kimchi Bulgogi Nachos at Dreaming of Pots And Pans
Felicia‘s Mexican-Lebanese Hummus at Burnt-Out Baker
Grace‘s Taiwanese Fried Chicken at HapaMama
Jill‘s Southern Pimento-Stuffed Knishes at Eating My Words
Joe‘s Grilled KimCheese Sandwich at Joe Yonan
Karen‘s Ukrainian-German Cabbage Rolls at GeoFooding
Leigh‘s Venezuelan-Italian Cachapas Con Queso at Leigh Nannini
Linda‘s Project Runway Pelau: Rice & Beans Trinidad-Style at Spicebox Travels
Linda‘s Edible Salad Totes at Free Range Cookies
Lisa‘s Sunday Night Jewish-Chinese Brisket at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lucy‘s Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango at A Cook And Her Books
Nancie‘s Chili-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter at Nancie McDermott
Rashda‘s Mango Cobbler at Hot Curries & Cold Beer
Renee‘s Asian-Spiced Quick Pickles at My Kitchen And I
Steff‘s Chicken Fried Steak at The Kitchen Trials
Vivian‘s Funky Fusion Linguini at Vivian Pei
Recipe: Bacon Studded Italian Polenta-

3-4 pieces of Bacon
1 cup Nonfat Milk
1 cup Water
2 Tbls. Butter
salt, pepper

1)  In a skillet, cook the bacon on Med. until crispy, remove and chop into small pieces. Pour off the fat/grease and save for the Tomato Gravy.  Save the bacon coated skillet for cooking the gravy in also.

2)  In a deep saucepan, bring the water, milk, salt and pepper to a low simmer, stirring so the milk doesn't curdle.

3)  Rain in the Polenta, stirring constantly until the Polenta is creamy.  

4)  Reduce the heat to low, stir often so it doesn't scorch.  Now is when to add a bit more liquid if needed. Stir in the bacon pieces now.  Cook and stir often for about 15 minutes.  The Polenta should be thick for this recipe.

5)  Stir in the butter and turn out into a buttered 8x8 baking pan. Leave to room temp or chill for later.
Press into a buttered baking dish
6)  Before serving, cut into squares and triangles and broil or fry for just a couple minutes until crisp on the outside. *It can also be used without this step.

Recipe:  Tomato Gravy

1/4 cup Bacon fat (use butter if there's not enough bacon fat)
1/4 cup Flour
2-3 Tomatoes (peeled, chopped)
2 cups Stock (veggie or chicken) warmed

1) Using the same pan the bacon was cooked in, add the bacon fat/butter and the flour, salt and pepper.  Cook and whisk on Med. until light brown and a nice roux has been created.
2)  Add the chopped tomatoes and any reserved juice from chopping.  Lower heat to Low/Med and Whisk together.

3)  Slowly whisk in the warmed stock and continue cooking on Low for about 15-20 minutes.  If it's too thick, add a little water or more stock a little at a time.  Season to taste.

4)  Serve poured over the Polenta or biscuits, rice or scrambled eggs. Mmmmm.

Congrats to Cowgirl Chef!  Hope to see you on tour!


Christina | Christina's Cucina said...

I just bought rapini yesterday to make polenta! I LOVE IT! Lucky you, off to Italy!! I am SO envious!! Buon viaggio!!

Anna said...

Wow this looks delicious! Am I missing the part that says how much polenta? I'd guess 1 cup.

Felicia said...

Looks gorgeous and sounds tasty! Bacon and tomatoes together rock.

Emma said...

YUM!! I can't wait to try this! I absolutely LOVE polenta.

A Tiger in the Kitchen said...

You have me thinking I've really got to make polenta more -- especially if I can make it like you do! Love the dish...thanks for sharing...x

linda @spiceboxtravels said...

Love this combo! Have a great trip and bring back lots of delicious ideas for the next LetsLunch!

Lucy said...

Oh my, this is lovely. Tomato gravy is one of my favorite things in the world and to pour it over Italian grits with bacon is nothing short of genius. Gonna try!

HapaMama said...

Of course! Polenta and grits are very similar. But with bacon already inside... even better. Funny how we all have Southern on the brain this month!

charissa (zest bakery) said...

This totally looks like savory french toast! I love it.

I think the gravy is something I might be able to convince my anti-tomato husband to try. :)

Cowgirl Chef said...

Grazie mille, sweet Cathy. What a lovely, heartfelt post and I am truly touched... I also love anything with polenta, because I, too, adore all things Italian...and to me, polenta is just a fancy cousin of the Southern staple, grits, which I grew up eating plain, with a pat of butter in the middle, melting like a tiny lake. So I love that, too. The bacon add-in is inspired; the tomato gravy, a perfect companion. I'd love this for breakfast with a super-strong cappuccino. Wouldn't that be perfect?!