There are certain recipes that just speak to me.
These recipes jump off the page and say: “Lindsay! Make me.” And I say, “Well, OK then.”
This was one of those recipes. I was making my usual blog rounds, and noticed that my friend and fellow Portland blogger, Adrien (of Her Hungry Heart), had posted a recipe for Lemon Polenta Fries with Hazelnut Pesto. It all looked and sounded so delicious. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that the recipe could be easily altered to fit within my Lenten diet. Score!
Adrien’s use of hazelnuts in her pesto sauce reminded me that I, too, had a bag of hazelnuts that I’d been wanting to use. But, rather than stick with the pesto sauce, I decided to go in a slightly different direction. I set out to make a hazelnut romesco.
The idea came from a trio of hazelnut recipes written by famed local chef, Naomi Pomeroy (For those unfamiliar, Naomi has a fabulous restaurant in Portland called Beast, she’s been a competitor on Iron Chef America, and is rumored to be a contestant in the next season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters). A friend had printed out Pomeroy’s hazelnut recipes for me a few months ago, and ever since I’d been wanting to make her hazelnut romesco. For whatever reason, I just hadn’t gotten around to it! So, then, when I saw Adrien’s recipe, the pieces all fell into place. I knew exactly what had to be done: polenta fries with hazelnut romesco.
Now, all I needed was an excuse to make this delicious dinner.
The excuse ended up being a random Thursday night. There was a Blazer game on TV and my friend Mari came over to watch the game. That was all the excuse I needed! Delicious dinner + friends + Blazers = a perfect Thursday night.
Everything turned out splendidly. I made a vegan caesar salad to go along with the meal, which rounded everything out so nicely. The polenta fries were crisp, with just a hint of lemon. The romesco sauce was packed with flavor – it was rich, sweet, smoky, and spicy. (Nich has since declared that he could eat romesco every day. I guess this is one of those recipes that we’ll be making often.) Overall, we had a fantastic night. We ate like kings and the Blazers won. What more can you want? ;)
I will mention that while the meal wasn’t difficult to make, it did take a bit of prep time. You could easily make some of the elements ahead of time (i.e. make the romesco sauce the night before), but overall I felt the meal came together relatively easily.
Lemon Polenta “Fries” with Hazelnut Romesco
(Polenta fries adapted from the lovely Adrien at Her Hungry Heart, Hazelnut romesco adapted from Naomi Pomeroy of Beast.)
For the polenta:
1 cup polenta (aka corn grits)
3 1/4 cups cold water
zest of 1 lemon
Dash of cayennne
Dash of paprika
Salt & pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons butter (or vegan butter substitute, such as Earth Balance)
Lightly great an 8″ square baking dish with olive oil.
Mix cold water & polenta in a small pot. Whisk often, over high heat, until the mixture comes to a boil. Once the mixture has reached a boil, turn the heat down to low and stir the polenta continuously with a wooden spoon. When the polenta starts to pull away from the side of the pan (about 10 minutes), stir in lemon zest and butter/butter substitute. Season with salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper and paprika.
Pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish, and spread into an even layer. Chill, uncovered, for 45 minutes to an hour (until cool & firm). When set, unmold the polenta and cut into slim sticks. (Note: I cut some of the polenta into rectangles to make grit cakes, and the rest I cut into slim sticks to make ‘fries’. Both Nich and I agree that the fries cooked more evenly and had a better texture.)
Place polenta ‘fries’ on a lightly greased baking sheet and broil until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Turn the fries over and broil the other side until golden, about 8 minutes more.
(Adapted from Naomi Pomeroy)
**Romesco sauce is a roasted red pepper spread that is usually made with almonds, stale bread, and a variety of spices. This particular version uses hazelnuts, which I think give it a unique and wonderful flavor.
2 red bell peppers
2 dried red Mexican chilies or 1 tsp red chili flakes (Note: original recipe calls for 2 dried ancho chilies, which you then reconstitute and make into an ancho chili paste. I didn’t have ancho chilies and used whatever dried red chilies I had on hand. Personally, I’m of the opinion that you could probably just use red chili flakes and skip making the chili paste altogether.)
3/4 cups roasted hazelnuts (skins removed, preferably)
1.5 tsps smoke paprika
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large piece of crusty white bread
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt & pepper, to taste
*If you decided to make/use ancho chili paste as opposed to chili flakes do the followingg: To make paste, add boiling water to 2 dried ancho chili pods. Allow to soak in hot water for 15-20 minutes. Remove pods from water and puree, adding a little extra water to make a paste.
Cut crust off bread and brush with olive oil. Either toast in the oven or in a skillet until golden brown and crisp.
In a food processor, combine hazelnuts, garlic, toasted bread, salt, and spices. Mix until a dry paste forms. Add chili paste, roasted red peppers, tomato paste, vinegar, and olive oil until a smooth paste forms. Add extra olive oil if you would like a thinner consistency. Taste and adjust spices as needed.
*Romesco also works wonderfully as a dip with rustic bread, or as an accompaniment to various proteins, such as pork or chicken. We actually made romesco sandwiches with the leftovers!