I come from a half-Italian family. Now, I wish I could say that I was a stereotypical wop, with Sinatra warbling on the radio, a pot of red sauce constantly bubbling on the stove, and a glass of chianti always waiting for my dad when we went over to my grandma's house. But who the fuck am I kidding? I grew up in Central Ohio. My family was typified by my uncle Dino. I love the guy. Great Italian name, greasy wop haircut and the mustache all screamed "pisane." However, the giant belt buckle, Appalachian accent, love of Marlboros and cowboy boots let you know his, and my family's, true nature. And I loved that duality.
That dual nature especially showed itself in our family's cooking. My dad's aunts and uncles (he had 11 of them--big Catholic family don'tchaknow) were all excellent Italian cooks, but could still chicken fry your ass and serve you with brown gravy and you'd ask for more. I learned to cook from my Dad, who learned to cook from his mom and dad and aunts and uncles.
I mentioned all that to say that I figured for my first recipe here on FTTW, it'd be apropos to start with a recipe that comes directly from my family. Unlike some of my family's recipes, the contents of which I've taken a vow of silence to learn, I'm excited to share this with you.
This is not a quick recipe, but it is absolutely worth it.
Polenta e Fagioli
4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 c coarse ground corn meal (also marketed as grits--but NOT hominy--or polenta)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 hamhock, whole
1 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 14-oz can kidney beans, completely rinsed
1/2 c parmesean cheese
salt and pepper
Heat a 6-quart soup pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook this for about 5 minutes, till the onions are translucent. If they start to get brown, turn the heat down. You don't want them to brown, only sweat. Add the hamhock and the broth. Bring the broth up to a simmer (that is, it should just barely be bubbling) and simmer the hamhock for about 25 minutes. Remove the hamhock from the broth and cut up the meat into small pieces. Throw the bone out and add the meat back into the broth. Add the spinach in and make sure it's not clumped up.
At this point, bring the broth to a boil. As soon as it starts boiling, add the corn meal and start whisking. Drop the broth back to a simmer. You'll want to whisk this till it becomes a thick consistency, like grits or oatmeal. If you got regular cornmeal, this should take about 20 minutes. When you taste it, it shouldn't be crunchy at all, and it shouldn't be soupy either.
When the polenta is the right consistency, gently stir in the kidney beans and half of the cheese. Turn the whole mess out into a deep 8 x 8 baking dish. Top it with the other half of the cheese and cover with saran wrap. Put it in the fridge for 2 or 3 hours. In the fridge, the starch in the corn meal will set up and form a cake consistency as opposed to a porridge. After it's set, it stays set. Cut it into squares and pan fry it, grill it, broil it, whatever gets your motor running.
As always, nothing washes dinner better than a healthy dose of metal. So tune in to "Dead of the Night" at 10pm Eastern, every Tuesday night on WXDU.