Here’s a special gourmet plate that has an unspeakable visual quality as well as being a marriage of delicious flavours.
On occasion when you are holiday entertaining out-of-town guests, or just any visitors any time, think about going the extra mile and prepare this fabulous food as a special welcome. It’s not difficult, but perhaps best doable by someone a little experienced in the kitchen and able to multitask.
Make your favourite cheese polenta ahead of time. Let it rest to set firm and measure three equal portions sliced so when assembled they resemble a small pound cake. I prefer slices about 4×6, but you could cut smaller but equal slices such as 2×4.
Each mille-feuille is an individual serving, but a rather large serving. Present with a side serving of crispy bacon rashers and a tiny container (perhaps a glass or crystal salt-cellar) of one of my aioli dipping sauces, along with a few deep-fried whole garlic cloves, for an additional wow factor surprise. (See my recipe below.)
Top a medium thick base slice of the cheese polenta with barely wilted, hot, very well-drained (press the spinach in a colander and put a heavy pot on the spinach for a few minutes) steamed regular spinach, that you have buttered (perhaps use one of your frozen compound herbed butter coins from your freezer log). Be generous. A whole head of spinach only provides a cup of finished product. Again, you can prepare the spinach ahead of time, but don’t refrigerate unless absolutely necessary.
I keep containers of my goat cheese spinach grilled sandwich filling in the freezer to use with my omelettes, and this would save on time if you thaw and choose to use it in this mille-feuille assembly.
Position another equal measured slice of set polenta on top. Dust with grated mixed wonderful dry cheeses as a bed for fresh very firm, seared on high heat in just a smear of unsalted butter, thick slices of white button mushrooms dusted with thyme, nutmeg and lots of fresh ground pepper. A few grains of salt. Careful. You don’t want the mushrooms to weep.
Spoon just a little of my (made earlier) caramelized onions on top of the mushrooms, and top with a matching size third polenta layer.
Top with pre-cooked, then pan-fried in sweet butter, crushed cooked chestnuts (you can buy beautiful readymade chestnuts in specialty packages, or purchase most top-grade chestnut purée and spread generously. Drizzle with just a tiny bit of noisette. Or deglaze the mushroom sauté pan using Offley Royal Ruby port or Asbach Uralt cognac, and drizzle over the top layer just when ready to serve.
Serve with a long blade sharp steak knife and a long tined fork and a generous size spoon, so not a drop of this delicious treat will be missed.
A rather rustic presentation, it will look its finest served in the centre of an oversized dinner plate, perhaps a heavier weight high-grade ceramic plate, warmed with very hot water, rather than on a delicate fine china.
For a full-sized meal, a side serving of medium rare roast duck, venison or lamb could be a nice addition for a very filling dinner meal.
The polenta mille-feuille on its own is a terrific breakfast/brunch. But you might consider topping with two poached runny yolk eggs with freshly made hollandaise, along with a side dish of my grated coarse tomato pulp. For something attractive for the brunch/breakfast presentation, maybe a grouping of yellow tomato, white tomato, red and green tomato pulp, each in its own little serving dish.
ALTERNATE: If you choose to buy ready made store-bought polenta, it often comes packaged in a large log shape (ideally bought from a high reputation Italian shop). Simply cut large coins perhaps a half-inch-thick and proceed to stack and fill as above and serve, layered, in the round.
You could offer a fabulous seafood version by insetting in the middle layer, chunks of fresh warmed lobster claw meat, or crab or shrimp, drizzled with your melted frozen lobster compound butter coins from your frozen log and/or a drizzle of your homemade lobster oil.
My aioli two ways – special aioli sauce uses – and a surprise or two (poached and deep-fried garlic, too…)
Use my homemade mayonnaise as a base. Quick and easy to prepare, this mayo will keep in a sterilized screw top glass jar, refrigerated, for six months, so if you live alone or have a small family, there is no need to buy mayonnaise when you can make your own that lasts, with no preservatives of any kind.
In a baked enamel cast-iron pot, measure about a third full of Mazola Corn Oil and heat. Add a dozen individual generous-sized peeled garlic cloves. Increase heat. Poach in the simmering oil until the garlic is mashable; remove the garlic cloves from the oil with a slotted spoon, allow to cool just briefly, and coarsely chop the garlic and add to two cups of mayo. Add herbs or spices if you like, but it’s not necessary. This aioli can be used as is, or mash blue cheese into the mix. An amazing sauce with beef, pork, chicken or seafood,
If you have made crab cakes or mixed seafood cakes, a dollop of either sauce on top is wonderful.
Check out my faux blini and serve with this sauce on a bed of Boston Bibb hydroponically grown lettuce. A little dish of lemon quarters might add to the flavour when squeezed just before indulging.
Serve the cakes on lettuce mounded on a thick slice of my beautiful Boston brown bread baked in a tin such as a large tomato tin. I used to use coffee tins when coffee was packed in real cans, back in the 1960s. Yes, that’s 60 years ago.
Here’s another way to use the aioli: marinate a boneless, skinless chicken breast, or boneless, skinless chicken thighs, in seasoned buttermilk overnight. Seasoning can be paprika, pepper, a sprinkle of thyme and a pinch of nutmeg. I prefer not to salt marinade. Salt the meat when ready to cook.
Pat the chicken dry and dredge the marinated chicken breast in seasoned flour. Deep-fry in the leftover garlic oil pot, at about 350 F. The chicken should cook perfectly in 5-7 minutes, depending on thickness. Salt immediately again when finished deep frying. This is a great, quick way to make dinner when you come home from work, having started the chicken the day before.
Carve the deep-fried chicken breast on the diagonal and drizzle with either aioli and serve on the Boston brown bread or on a grilled brioche, with a handful of fresh watercress.
For a side dish, soak half-inch onion rings in fresh (unused) buttermilk for a couple of hours. Dredge in seasoned semolina flour and deep fry quickly. The onion rings will be cooked when they turn crisp and golden.
You can use the same oil you used for the garlic and the chicken, if you are making onion rings simultaneously. But otherwise, start with fresh oil. At the end of the cooking session, toss the oil. Do not plan to use it another day.
Drain the onion rings on a cookie rack lined with white paper towel. Salt as soon as you remove from the oil. Perhaps sprinkle some of the onion rings with a little cayenne (definitely not if serving to children). Cayenne can actually burn your throat tissue, so if you are not familiar with using it, tread gently at first. It’s simply hot peppers.
Drizzle with just a little of the aioli when ready to serve, or use the aioli as a dipping sauce.
You might want to offer either sauce as an accompaniment with sautéed seared or breaded sea scallops. Serve on a bed of shredded mixed lettuce greens. Chop a bit of fresh parsley and/or watercress and add to the aioli.
Or: shred in fine strips on the diagonal, using a very sharp knife, perfectly cooked medium rare prime rib steak, and use the shredded steak to fill a freshly made Yorkshire pudding that you baked using the beef drippings. Deflate and fill the hole with the thinly sliced beef, and serve immediately, topping with a drizzle of the garlic blue cheese aioli.
Now, for those who can never get enough garlic, a special treat.
Having prepared the poached in oil garlic cloves (make as many as you like), immediately when they are barely tender to the point of a sharp knife prick, using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic from the simmering oil pot and place on a white absorbent paper towel on a cake cooling rack.
Quickly whisk together your favourite light batter, even one made with beer. Toss in the whole garlic cloves. Retrieve with a small slotted spoon to let the excess batter drip off, and slide the garlic cloves into 350 F oil in the pot you just poached them in. When the batter is crisp and golden (in just a couple of minutes) remove with the large slotted spoon and place onto a fresh paper towel.
Sprinkle with salt, a few herbs and or spices, and serve at once, alongside any favourite dish. You will find the garlic is medium mild and not at all overpowering. Simply delicious as a nibble treat or with any meat, seafood or poultry dish (a great balance with game), perhaps with a pasta dish, or even as a special salad topper.
© “From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks” Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience