I’M JUST about to turn 40, and as such, have been taking stock of my life.
I have no idea why – it’s only a calendar date, anyway, but tradition seems to dictate that this is a ‘big deal’, and I’m getting swept along a little, I suppose.
It seems like a very long time indeed since I first popped on an apron and stepped into the kitchen here at The Weavers Shed.
I often wonder exactly how many plates of food I’ve served. Most of the time I’ve got it right, and I’m very grateful to our customers for their patronage over the years. Many have become good friends.
When I first arrived at the restaurant, I was, as you’d expect, wildly enthusiastic about food, and having been trained in London and in some pretty decent kitchens around the south, I had great plans for the kind of food I was going to present at The Weavers Shed.
By and large, the clientele took to my style quickly, and with great support, telling me exactly where I was going wrong, and which dishes hit the spot. My ambitious plan, and I clearly remember telling someone this all those years ago, was to get the good people of Huddersfield eating polenta within five years.
I don’t know quite why I chose polenta; perhaps it seemed like such a trendy ‘southern’ ingredient I imagined it would take a while to migrate north.
Of course I easily reached this rather silly target, but our menu features such dishes regularly these days, thanks to the burgeoning popularity of food programmes, magazines and the general rise in interest in food that has swept across Britain in the last couple of decades. People are always ready to try new things.
Today, though, I’m returning to that polenta. A great palette for many flavours, polenta is a specially-ground cornmeal which can be used in pastry, pasta or on its own as a main or side-dish. It became popular in the 1990s and has clung on ever since, in many forms. Often it is served traditionally, as it is in its native northern Italy, ‘wet’, straight from the pan, like very runny mashed potatoes, but it is most used when set into trays and allowed to cool.
It is then cut and grilled or fried until golden and crunchy on the outside. Many people think polenta to be a little bland, but this can be remedied in the initial recipe, using vegetable or meat stocks, herbs or spices, and plenty of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.
Today’s recipe is a delicious simple supper. A few wedges of crunchy, cheesy grilled polenta, with a nice garlic-laced tomato sauce, a little crunchy fresh spinach and some oven-dried tomatoes. Aprons on!