We're priviledged to welcome Guest Blogger Judith Sarchielli, an expert on gluten-free Tuscan cooking. Also known as the "Topanga Chef" (based in that area of California), Judith is a chef, food coach, author, researcher, culinary instructor, and speaker. She spent 20 years living in Tuscany and has been able to take the simple and naturally delicious recipes she cooked daily and make them completely gluten-free -- without sacrificing taste or authentic Tuscan quality. Here she shares a favorite memory -- and a favorite recipe that will please any palate (gluten-free or not!)
A TUSCAN WINE HARVEST
The aroma of crushed grapes reaches me from the distant past, as I daydream in my Topanga Canyon kitchen. I remember the best part of the vendemia, the Tuscan wine harvest--- the delicious polenta casserole. That day in the Chianti vineyards of a Tuscan friend and vintner, I picked clusters of ripe, juicy grapes with small scissors, and tossed them into my hand-woven twig basket. My hands were blistered and sweaty, and muscles screamed from the 8-hour effort under the blazing sun. But the evening meal would be worth it all---a chance to rest and relax under the dark green Tuscan cypress.
Back in Topanga, my mouth waters as I remember that hearty peasant feast. The long wooden table is covered with a sparkling white tablecloth. We begin with gigantic antipasto platters of salume, grilled sweet peppers, assorted local cheeses, olives, bruschetta, and pinzimonio, (raw vegetables with anchovy vinaigrette dipping sauce). We wash it all down with great gulps of last year’s Chianti that smells like fresh raspberries, and tastes like something Dionysius created. The air is chilly, as the summer fog rolls in and lends mystery to our setting.
After antipasto, the women bring huge terracotta casseroles overflowing with polenta, sausage and wild mushroom sauce, and bitter greens salad. The air and food is scented with wild rosemary, sage, and fennel. We sing stornelli, (the raucous story-songs that have existed since Dante’s day), and laugh at the dry and fruity Tuscan jokes...
Polenta is porridge that originated with the Etruscans and was made from wheat the Roman legions planted. Columbus brought corn back to Spain from the New World in the late 1400s and it became as popular in Tuscany as wheat. Delectable as a casserole, it is tasty when cooled, sliced, and fried with fennel seeds and crunchy sausages: a favorite Florentine Straw Market street vendor snack.
POLENTA with WILD MUSHROOM SAUCE
6 cups water
2 TB olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup organic polenta (cornmeal)
½ stuck unsalted butter, cubed
In a large, heavy pot, bring water and salt to boil. Gradually whisk in polenta and simmer until very thick and smooth, stirring frequently. Whisk in butter and layer with sauce.
WILD MUSHROOM SAUCE INGREDIENTS
2 TB grape seed oil
1 onion chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. Italian sweet sausage, crumbled
1 package dried porcini mushrooms, soaked
1 TB rosemary, chopped
1 TB sage, chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 small can Muir Glenn diced tomatoes
1 cup Chianti
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, freshly grated and divided in half
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
3 TB olive oil
Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high. Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft. Add sausage, mushrooms, herbs and wine. Let wine evaporate, and add tomatoes. Simmer until thick. In a large casserole, ladle some sauce on bottom of dish and layer polenta, sauce, and half of parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and Italian parsley. Bake for 30 minutes or until top is bubbling and golden.
If Judith's mouth-watering recipe has you longing for more (and if her memories of life's simple pleasures enjoyed with family and friends have you yearning for a trip to Tuscany), stay tuned for another update in several months when her much-awaited cookbook, Tuscan Gluten-Free Cuisine: Eat Healthy and Please Your Palate, is published. In the meantime, you can visit her website to learn more.