Monday, October 25, 2010

Storm King (Revisited) and Italian Caesar Salad Polenta Croutons

Once again, the Northeast had an incredible autumn weekend.  This season we've gone apple picking and leaf picking. We had plans to go pumpkin picking (or is it gathering) at a local patch, but our friends wanted to go to Storm King and I was more than happy to go back even though I was there last weekend.  I only got to see half of the sculpture garden on my original trip (it is hundreds of acres) and knowing that the leaves change colors from week-to-week, I was looking forward to another visit...

It was a beautiful afternoon and perfect weather for a picnic. We purchased sandwiches at the Storm King Cafe (very reasonably priced) and I made French Potato Salad and an Italian Caesar Salad with Polenta Croutons. This recipe is from Giada de Laurentiis, though I was first introduced to it when we went to Jenni and Ori's place for dinner.
While I normally do not go gaga for sundried tomatoes, in this salad they are delicious and essential. I love the flavor from the toasted pinenuts and the originality of using polenta as croutons instead of bread. It's more labor intensive than your average salad, but I had a bit of time and I wanted to try something new. I made the polenta and vinaigrette the night before. I toasted the pinenuts in advance too and put them in a small container with the shredded parmesan.  The romaine was washed, spun and chopped the night before as well. All I had to do prior to our departure for Storm King was sliver some sundried tomatoes and lightly panfry the polenta.
I adapted this recipe slightly and made it vegetarian by omitting the anchovy fillets. I also skipped the step that required me to grill the lettuce. It was fine without this method of preparation, but try it both ways if you have the right equipment.
Unless you are having company, you can cut this recipe in half.  It will still make 4 salad apps. Enjoy!
Italian Caesar Salad with Polenta Croutons 
(Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis)



  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Polenta Croutons: 

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cups Basic Polenta, recipe follows
  • Vegetable oil, for deep frying


  • 3 small heads (or 2 large heads) romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 1/2 ounces shaved Parmesan


To make the dressing: Finely chop the garlic.  Using a blender or food processor (I used the whisk attached to my immersion blender) mix in the lemon juice and mustard. With the machine running, gradually blend in the oil. Season the dressing, to taste, with salt and pepper.
To make the croutons (How to make Polenta? See below "Basic Polenta"): Spread the olive oil over a small baking sheet or oven-safe baking dish. Transfer the hot polenta to the baking sheet, spreading evenly to form an 8 by 5 by 3/4-inch-thick rectangle. Cover and refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.
Cut the polenta into 3/4-inch cubes. Pat the polenta cubes dry with paper towels. Add vegetable oil to a heavy large frying pan so that it coats the pan. Heat the oil over high heat. Working in batches of 10, carefully add the polenta cubes to the oil 1 at a time and fry until golden brown, stirring to keep the cubes separate, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the polenta croutons to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.
(If you make the croutons and have leftovers, you can refrigerate them and then rewarm them on a baking sheet in a 350 degrees F oven before serving.)
To make the salad:  Cut the lettuce into bite-size pieces.
On a serving platter, mound the grilled chopped lettuce. Decoratively scatter the sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. Drizzle with enough dressing to evenly coat. Sprinkle Parmesan and scatter the warm polenta croutons over and serve immediately.

Basic Polenta
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 12 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted.
Lightly oil a half sheet pan. Transfer the hot polenta to the prepared baking dish, spreading evenly to 3/4-inch thick. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.
Yield: 2 cups polenta
CookTime: 15 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 2 hours

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