Have I been transported to the farmhouse kitchen of an Umbrian villa, where curlicues of tender green vines have worked their way into the corners of its open windows? I have tender radicchio from the garden, fresh eggs from free-range hens and cheese from a province nearby.
And when the components are soon assembled on the plate -- the yolk of a just-poached egg spilling onto a warm tuft of quickly cooked polenta and mingling with drizzled olive oil, the smoky aroma of caramelized red-and-white leaves, a soft and spiced thick slice of feta cheese -- I see this is a meal that can take me back to Italy anytime I choose.
Serve with crusty bread and a glass of pinot grigio.
- 5 to 7 ounces feta cheese (in a block)
- Olive oil
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 or 2 small heads radicchio
- Sea salt flakes
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons low-fat milk, plus more as needed
- 1 cup quick-cooking polenta
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Dash distilled white vinegar or malt vinegar
- 4 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a grill pan or skillet over high heat. Place a large piece of aluminum foil on a baking sheet.
Place the block of feta on the lined baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil, then sprinkle with the crushed red pepper flakes, if using, and season lightly with black pepper. Wrap the foil loosely around the feta. Roast for 8 minutes or until the cheese has softened. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely to keep warm.
Meanwhile, cut the radicchio head (or heads; the amount of radicchio per serving is to taste) into quarters, then remove any loose outer leaves. Drizzle the cut sides with oil, then sprinkle lightly with the salt flakes and black pepper. Add to the heated pan or skillet and cook for about 2 minutes, turning as needed to brown the cut sides. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely to keep warm.
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat, until bubbles form at the edges. Reduce the heat to medium-low; gradually whisk in the polenta and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring as it thickens. Add the butter and Parmesan, stirring to incorporate. Taste and season with salt, if needed. Remove from the heat; add milk as needed if the polenta is too firm for your liking.
Fill a medium saucepan with water; add the vinegar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Carefully crack each egg into a small cup.
Once the water is boiling, stir it to create a gentle whirlpool; this will help shape the eggs nicely. Reduce the heat to medium. Carefully slide the eggs into the water in the middle of the whirlpool one at a time; adjust the heat as needed so the water is barely bubbling at the edges. Cook for 3 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to a bowl.
To assemble, divide the polenta among individual plates. Cut equal portions of the warm feta and place on top of the polenta, then nestle some of the grilled radicchio and a poached egg on each portion, slightly breaking the egg yolk so it runs. Drizzle each serving with oil; serve immediately.
NOTE: If you want to prepare the eggs first, cook them for 2 1/2 minutes, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. When ready to serve, return the eggs to a saucepan of barely boiling water for no more than 1 minute.
Adapted from "The Modern Vegetarian," by Maria Elia (Kyle, 2009).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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