Since we seem to actually be having chilly weather this year, and it came early, another dish I wanted to try was the Polentina alla Toscana. It’s a hearty, vegetable soup thickened with polenta. It starts like a lot of soups with onion, carrots, celery, and fennel being cooked. Next, leeks and a bay leaf were added. Then, just a quarter cup of polenta was added before the stock was stirred into the vegetables. It simmered for about an hour. Separately, kale was sauteed with chopped garlic and red pepper flakes and was then used to top the soup after it was ladled into bowls. The final garnish was chopped rosemary and a drizzle of olive oil. It was perfect soup for a cold day.
There’s an ease about these recipes that draws me straight to the kitchen. But, in addition to being straightforward to prepare, the dishes are also interesting and varied. It’s the kind of book that will make you think about your favorite dishes and how to make them even better, and it will give you several more dishes to add to your favorites list.
Polentina alla Toscana
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission. Excerpted from One Good Dish by David Tanis (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Gentl and Hyers.
Serves 4 to 6
Some soups, once encountered, live on in both memory and a cook’s personal repertoire. This very traditional Tuscan soup impressed me when I first encountered it in Florence. I loved the way a little polenta could be used to thicken, ever so slightly, a vegetable soup. There was something special too about the deep, dark kale and fruity olive oil that were added to the bowl. My version is faithful to the original, so good that there was no need to embroider.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more (optional) for drizzling
1 large onion, diced
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and diced
4 celery stalks, diced
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and diced
Salt and pepper
1 medium leek, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch squares
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup polenta
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 pound kale, preferably Tuscan
1/2 teaspoon grated or finely chopped garlic
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Leaves from 1 rosemary sprig
In a heavy pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and fennel, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or so, until barely softened. Add the leek and bay leaf and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the polenta, stirring to distribute it, and raise the heat to high. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and allow the soup to simmer for about an hour; the broth should be just slightly thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Meanwhile, wash and roughly chop the kale. Drain in a colander but do not dry. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the greens, stirring as they begin to wilt. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the greens are tender, about 5 minutes more. Set aside.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with the kale. Sprinkle with the chopped rosemary (finely chop it at the last minute), and drizzle with more olive oil if desired.
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