Polenta cake with tomatoes and bleu cheese (6 servings)

When it comes to starches, rice and pasta often seem to be the most versatile. They can be paired with so many things, from silky sauces to roasted vegetables. However, polenta deserves its time in the spotlight, too!

This particular rendition pairs dense, herb-flecked, pleasantly grainy polenta with sweet tomatoes and pungent bleu cheese. I was lucky enough to pick up some local goat-milk Blue Chevrolait, a gorgeously buttery creation from Prodigal Farm in Rougemont. Its rich umami notes stole the show without drowning out the other flavors. Cut with a drizzle of honey, it was the perfect topping for this dish.

You will need:

  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 3/4 cups crumbled bleu cheese
  • 1 tsp honey

Steps:

  1. Grease a square cake or baking pan with one tablespoon of the oil and set aside. Preheat the oven to 450°.
  2. Combine the water, cornmeal, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking as close to constantly as your little forearms can handle. (Reaching boiling stage ALWAYS takes longer than I think it will!)
  3. Once the mixture starts to bubble, lower the heat to medium-low. Whisk constantly for a few more minutes, or until the mixture is thick enough to start pulling away from the sides of the pan. (My clue that I'm almost done is that I can't hold the whisk like a pencil anymore.) Fold in the remaining tablespoon of the olive oil, the garlic, and the basil.
  4. Pour the polenta mixture into the prepared pan. Top with the tomatoes and cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
  5. Remove from oven and allow it to set for a few minutes. Lightly drizzle the pan with honey, and then cut the polenta into rectangles. Serve with a lightly-dressed salad and you're good to go!

My version of the recipe was based on this Epicurious offering.

Triangle food round-up

One of the things I love most about living in Chapel Hill is the vibrancy and variety of the local food scene. Between here, Durham, and Raleigh ("the Triangle," for those of you who don't know), there are tons of amazing restaurants, farmers markets, and food events revolving around locally-grown and made food. Here's a wrap-up of what's going on in the near future, plus some resources for Triangle locals to keep up with.

First, let's start with restaurants. Triangle Restaurant Week takes place June 4-10, with dozens of restaurants offering three-course dinners for $20 or $30. Some places even offer lunch! There are three places listed under the vegetarian category, although none of them is exclusively vegetarian. 

If you need help keeping up with the local food scene, check out The Triangle Food Guy. He always has the low-down on which restaurants are closing or opening, which chefs are moving where, and which food events are worth attending. I hope the rumor he posted about a Mellow Mushroom opening on Franklin Street turns out to be true!

There are so many farmers markets in the Triangle and surrounding counties, and I'm ashamed to say I've visited very few of them so far. The Carrboro Farmers Market, which runs Wednesdays and Saturday, is lively and well-stocked. The Chapel Hill Farmers Market is held on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and although it's on the small side, it still hosts a good variety of vendors. By far, the biggest market in the area is the State Farmers Market in Raleigh. It's always crowded and well-stocked, but go early, because it gets hot in the summertime! It also boasts a cute little restaurant on its grounds. Bryan and I like to get there early on a Sunday to get breakfast before we shop!

This Chatham County-based farmers market guide lists markets in Chatham, Durham, Alamance, Moore, Orange, Wake, Lee, and Granville Counties, with hours of operation and contact information for each.

The News Observer's guide features more counties and gives parking information for some of the markets, which is helpful. Although I haven't checked it out myself yet,
the LoMo Market sounds interesting. It's essentially a farmers market on wheels; it has a
regular route and 75% of its offerings come from North Carolina with the remaining 25% coming from neighboring states. It sells flowers and prepared foods and, of course, the usual eggs, cheeses, and produce. I'll have to check it out sometime!

Finally, the local food truck scene is worth mentioning. In this area, you can buy anything from grilled cheese and mini donuts to Korean tacos and crepes from a food truck. Now I know that food trucks once had the reputation of being "roach coaches," but in recent years, food trucks have become much more popular, regulated, and, yes, safe! The News Observer has a list of local food trucks with links to most trucks' Twitter feeds, websites, or Facebook pages. Some food trucks make regular stops at places like the Fullsteam Brewery in Durham. On June 17, Durham Central Park will host another of its popular Food Truck Rodeos with 20+ vendors attending. Sounds like a great event to attend with your family for Father's Day!

That's all I've got for now, but I'll continue to post new local resources as I find them! Enjoy!

South Estes farmers' market

Yesterday I finally visited my first North Carolina farmers' market! South Estes farmers' market is held every Tuesday and Saturday in the parking lot of A Southern Season, and it reminded me of the West Reading farmers' market back in PA. There were about 15 or 20 tents set up, and vendors sold a wide range of wares, from vegetables and pastry to flowers and compost materials. I didn't see anything that wasn't locally-produced.

marm.jpg

I took home a half-dozen eggs, some beautiful tomatoes, and my favorite find of the day, a sumptuous orange marmalade roll. Mmmmm.

Vegetarian restaurants in the Triangle

I just stumbled onto the Triangle Vegetarian Society's list of vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the area. The list gives an overall rating for each included restaurant, as well as a breakdown of the overall score, based on quality of food, variety of choices, "vegetarian sensitivity," price, and service. I've already tried some other sites geared towards vegetarian dining, but it's nice to have a resource as local as this.