By Christie Vanover | Published October 23, 2011 | Last Updated January 2, 2015
This weekend it was time for the fourth ZESTUOUS CHALLENGE. What I love about these challenges is just that…the challenge. Although my lovely fans picked ingredients that were fairly common, this was a difficult challenge for me.
Jackie Bacom Stone was the first to suggest an ingredient, and she chose salmon for the protein. I love fish, but for some reason, I’m not a huge fan of salmon.
Next, “…and then I ate it” suggested kale. Kale? Why after all these years have I never had this? I’ve had mustard greens, collard greens, cabbage and many, many types of lettuce, but somehow I’ve missed this green goddess.
Daniel Parenteau picked the starch ~ polenta. Oh no! Another ingredient I’ve never cooked with or made from scratch.
Finally, my longtime family friend Jamie Gatti recommended I turn these ingredients into an appetizer.
So two ingredients I’ve never made combined with a protein I don’t really like, let the fun begin!
Okay…don’t laugh but this is how it began. I walked into the grocery and found the fresh kale. I bagged up the sandy, wet, green bunch, but not before I pinched off a piece and tasted it. There is nothing wrong with tasting produce before you buy it. Now, I wouldn’t bite into an apple or peach, but by all means, snap off some lettuce or taste a grape before you throw it in your cart.
I was pleasantly surprised with the taste of the kale. It was so peppery. That changed my whole concept. This leaf had so much flavor I couldn’t wait to see what happened when I sautéed it. As I strolled to the fishmonger and through the aisles, I continued to tear off pieces of the kale and suck on it to stay inspired by this flavor profile.
I just knew at one point I probably had a big piece of kale in my teeth when I smiled at a little girl walking by.
Once I had all the ingredients at home, my brain went in a million directions. Creating recipes from scratch is so fun. Since this was an appetizer, I had ideas for a polenta toast topped with a salmon mousse and a kale chip, a grilled salmon piece topped with creamy kale polenta, salmon-kale dip with polenta triangles, even salmon-polenta kabobs with kale pesto.
I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do, until the final moment.
First, I baked the salmon and made the polenta. Next, I chewed on some more kale. I really liked the peppery flavor, but I wondered what it tasted like sautéed. I browned some butter and threw some in the pan. Wow, once cooked down, it had a nice nutty flavor. I immediately realized I needed to use the kale both raw and cooked.
So here I sat with shredded, baked salmon, a pan of polenta and raw and sautéed kale. Tasting, tasting, tasting is so important when you’re experimenting, and that’s what I did. Then, it hit me ~ truffles!!
When I think of truffles, I think of two things ~ chocolate truffles and mushrooms. Chocolate truffles have a creamy center that makes you sigh after biting into them. And mushroom truffles are so rich and delectable. How can I top that with corn meal, kale and salmon? I didn’t know if it was going to work, but it did.
First, I combined the cooked and raw kale with the salmon, and then I stirred in the polenta. It was a big glob, but it sure tasted good. Now, how would I finish it? I scooped the mixture into uniform polenta balls. So pretty.
I tried browning one in olive oil. Failure! That was a soggy mess that just stuck to the pan. So in the oven it went. 8 minutes? Nope! Nothing fantastic. 12 minutes? Not quite. 15 minutes? The outside felt nice and crispy.
I let it cool and waited in anticipation. Finally, time to taste. I bit through the crispy shell and the inside melted in my mouth. Angels sang right there in my kitchen. But the true test was my husband. I heated up four more for him. He thought and thought about how to critique it, and he was speechless.
I told him to imagine he was at a party and was offered a tray of these. “What would you do?”
“Stalk the waiter,” he replied.
Challenge accomplished! Thanks to Jackie, Daniel, Jamie and …and then I ate it. I’m going to be using this technique from now on with a variety of meats and veggies. And you can make them ahead of time and store them in the fridge, until you’re ready to heat them.
If you want to be part of the next challenge, stay tuned to www.facebook.com/zestuous for the challenge announcement.
Rules for the Zestuous Challenge ~ When I announce the challenge on Facebook, fans need to post one protein, one fruit/vegetable and one starch. Then, they need to select the course: appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, bread or dessert. The first post in each category will be selected, and each person can only post once. And while it’s tempting to throw me a total curveball, like an anchovy dessert, hopefully, you’ll select items that we’d all like to eat…ingredients like those that were picked for these fabulous polenta truffles.
- 1 packed cup shredded, cooked salmon (recipe below)
- ¼ cup raw kale, chopped
- sautéed kale (recipe below)
- ½ tsp. onion powder
- 1 batch polenta (recipe below)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 8 ozs. fresh salmon
- cooking spray
- kosher salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- kale leaves
Combine the salmon with the kale and onion powder.
Add in the prepared polenta.
Using a small scoop, scoop into balls. Place on a silpat or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Serve warm.
Makes 44 truffles.
In a large saucepot, bring the chicken stock and water to a simmer over medium-high heat.
Add the cornmeal and reduce heat to low. Whisk continuously. For me, the mixture thickened after one minute, but you need to break down the meal pieces, so continue cooking and whisking.
After 7 minutes, add the salt and cayenne.
After 14 minutes, add the butter. Whisk until the butter melts. Then, remove it from the heat.
Pour the mixture into a half sheet pan to cool. It will start to congeal. Next, work on the other ingredients.
Spray the filets with cooking spray. Season each side with kosher salt, pepper and cornmeal. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes. Let cool, then, shred with your fingers.
Remove the kale leaves from the stalk. Place a bunch of leaves in a food processor and mince, until you have ¾ cups of chopped kale. Reserve ¼ cup fresh kale.
Brown butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add ½ cup chopped kale. Sauté for 3 minutes, until the leaves lose their bitterness and begin to taste nuttier.