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Throw out all your polenta recipes and just follow Bill Buford's instructions in Heat. Really. What he learned about polenta at Babbo is the real deal (and it's a darn funny read). Polenta takes more liquid than any recipe out there says (I hope Marcella Hazan doesn't read food blogs!) and it really is better the longer you cook it. Oh, and by the way, even though Mario recommends instant polenta (gag) in his cookbooks, he never uses it in his restaurants!  Thanks a lot, Mario!  

So for good polenta, you want to use the coarse kind. It's very easy to find now. You need a good heavy pot, a whisk and a spatula. The amount of liquid doesn't matter, because you are going to keep adding it until the polenta doesn't take any more (remember my pizza dough post?).


  • start out with about 6 cups water
  • 1.5 cups polenta
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 Tablespoons butter (yes, butter - are you really still eating margarine?)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Bring the water to a simmer. Slowly add the polenta in a steady stream into the pot and whisk as you add it. Whisk for a couple of minutes and then let the polenta do its thing. Keep it at a low simmer. It may pop out at you, so be aware. Switch to your rubber spatula and give the polenta a good stir every now and then. When it absorbs all the water, add more water. And more. And keep stirring. And add more water. After about an hour, the polenta will be done. The granules will have become creamy and soft. Take it off the heat, add the butter and parmesan. You can serve it at this point with grilled meat or even put a nice bolognese sauce over it. That makes a great meal.

I took mine and poured it into an 8x8 baking dish. I chilled it for several hours in the fridge, cut into circles with a biscuit cutter and grilled it. I did add chopped fresh basil on top and more parmesan cheese.

Tip: If you want a richer flavor, you can also add some chicken stock instead of some of the water.
Tip: If you are grilling it, take the pan out of the fridge a good hour beforehand and cut the polenta into the shapes you want and then let them come to room temp. Putting this recipe in an 8x8 pan makes very thick polenta servings and grilling them will not heat them all the way through.
Final Tip: Don't even bother to wash the pot. Fill it with soap and water and let it sit for a couple of hours. Then the polenta on the bottom comes right out.

Polenta used: Bob's Red Mill Coarse Grind Polenta




Brian and I go to an Italian conversation group on Sunday nights and tonight is the last class for this session. I wanted to take something to hand out to everyone and I figured what better then these Pignoli - Italian pine nut and almond cookies. Brian loves these cookies and I even love them, and I'm not much of a cookie person at all. These are very light and have no egg yolk or butter in them. And you can't believe how great they are with an espresso until you try them.


For a printer friendly recipe click here

adapted from Martha Stewart

makes about 35 - 40 cookies, depending on the size you make them
  • 1-1/4 cups pine nuts (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 cup whole raw almonds (not roasted)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (8 tablespoons, divided)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large egg whites, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread 1-1/4 pine nuts and the almonds on a baking sheet. Toast about 8 minutes. Let cool.

Grind nuts in a food processor with 6 tablespoons sugar until finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl. Add orange zest and salt. Mix thoroughly.

Beat 2 egg whites until fluffy. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the vanila and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold into nut mixture.

Line baking sheets with either Silpat or parchment. Form cookies into balls, about 2 teaspoons each. I use a melon baller and dip it in water when it gets sticky. Flatten cookies slightly. Brush with the last egg white and press a few pine nuts in the top for garnish.

Bake until slightly golden about 14-15 minutes.



Pizza: the Homemade Kind

Having a real wood burning pizza oven in your home is fantastic. The oven can reach temperatures that a regular oven just can't. And that's one of the secrets to having great homemade pizza. Oh - okay, well, that's not me in the picture and no, that's not my pizza oven. But wouldn't it be great to have one? For all of us who don't, and that's just about everyone I know, you can still do great homemade pizza. At the McCardel household, every Tuesday night is pizza night. We've made an awful lot of pizzas and learned a thing or two.

There's not much to making pizza dough. If you've got a couple of hours to let it rise and some flour, yeast, olive oil and salt, that's really all you need for the dough. I do use a combination of regular unbleached all purpose flour and Italian 00 flour. It makes a superior crust. Italian 00 flour is a very finely milled flour that is still high in gluten (don't substitute cake flour or White Lilly soft flour! It's not the same thing.)  But you can certainly use just regular all purpose flour.

Now, I know you probably want a recipe for dough. And I'm not going to give you one!

Don't be scared. This is the way I make all of my doughs - pasta dough, focaccia dough and pizza dough. I measure the wet ingredients and then the flour added is as much as the wet ingredients will take. This is because when working with doughs, there are a lot of variables.  Even how humid the room is can affect the dough.   In the case of pizza dough, I allow about 1/3 cup of water for each person. We roll our pizzas very thin, so if you want a thicker crust, you might want to allow 1/2 cup water per person.

For pizza for three people, I put a cup of warm water in the bowl of my mixer and attach the dough hook. I then pour what looks like about a couple of teaspoons of Rapid Rise yeast in the water. I add a couple of good glugs of olive oil (aren't my measurements easy to follow!) and turn the mixer on. I start adding flour, usually 2 parts flour to one part 00 flour. I probably add about 1/2 cup at a time or so. After I've added a little flour, but my dough is still wet, is the time I throw in about a teaspoon of kosher salt (Martha Stewart said once that salt directly contacting yeast can kill it, so now I'm afraid for them to "touch" right away!) Keep mixing on low and adding flour until the dough comes together in a nice ball and is the right texture - not too dry, not too sticky. This just comes with practice.

Now I'm going to give you a very important piece of advice right here - add the flour towards the end just a little at a time. If you let the dough get too dry, you cannot add more water at this point. The dough is ruined. Yes, ruined. You have to start over. So when I know the dough is almost right but is still too sticky, I just add a scant spoonful at a time and keep mixing. You can always add flour to a too sticky dough, but not the other way around. After you've made it a while and have the hang of it, you really get a feel for the dough and you will know.

Take the dough out - I knead it by hand just a little bit because I like the feel of it - and then put it in an oiled bowl and cover it with a towel and stick it in a nice warm place. And it must be warm, or your dough won't rise well at all. In the summer, I stick it out in the sun. In February in Michigan, I stick it in my oven (my oven has a nifty "Proof" setting just for rising doughs). I let the dough rise for about an hour, but there's no exact set time. You can let it rise longer. Then I punch it down, break it into three pieces and roll those pieces into balls and set them on a floured jelly roll pan. I cover those with a towel and let those rise for another hour. They come out looking like this:

In the meantime, I have cranked up my oven to 450 degrees and put a pizza stone on the lower rack. You have to give this time to preheat - I usually give it a good half hour. And yes, you have to have a pizza stone. If you don't have one, go out and get one right away. They sell them everywhere - Williams Sonoma, Target, etc. They make a hugh difference in the crust. And do not wash your pizza stone! Not ever! The stone is absorbent. All you want to do after it is cooled is scrape it off. That's it. If you don't believe me, this is what our looks like:

This is what your pizza will cook on if you come over to our house.

Sprinkle some cornmeal on the pizza peel. Roll out one piece of dough on the counter, using flour so it doesn't stick. Transfer to the pizza peel. Put tomato sauce on the pizza, the cheese, and then your toppings. Slide the pizza off the peel onto the pizza stone in the oven with a jerk. It should just slide off, because of the corn meal. Bake for about 8 minutes. Your oven may vary, so just check on it.

I like to top my pizza with arugula, so I add that after it's out of the oven.

Questions? Feel free to e-mail me.

Tip: You can make the dough and stick it in your fridge the night before you need it. Then, when you want it, just bring it to room temperature and let it do its first rise from there.

UPDATE: For a more complete discussion on what kinds of flour to use when making pizza, click here.

00 flour: Caputo Tipo 00 flour

Equipment Needed:
Pizza Stone: Williams Sonoma baking stone
Pizza Peel:
Williams Sonoma pizza peel