Food trends can be fun and interesting sometimes, but I find they can also be very limiting and quickly tire. This is why my all-time favourite food trend to date has been the food truck and pop up shop craze, which I consider to be the polar opposite of limiting and tired. There are so many things that I appreciate about this trend, to just name a few: its ability to bring the community together; allowing young budding entrepreneurs to make their mark on the industry, without having to take on the financial strain of opening a brick and mortar; the imaginative dishes that these independent small businesses allow; the accessibility of gourmet foods to the average consumer; I could go on and on. Being a young adult, dealing with a tight wallet, and a city filled with fantastic restaurants that often come with a high price that doesn't always fit my budget, the food truck and pop up shop trend has meant that I have been able to experience all different types of gourmet cuisine, representing all different parts of the world, many of which are from some of Toronto's hottest chefs. This new trend not only makes gourmet cuisine more accessible for the consumer, but for the at-home chef as well. After seeing so many young and fresh chefs taking a stab at taking a chance, playing with various flavour combinations and compositions on the plate, with numerous chefs not having a culinary school background, its boosted my own confidence, making me feel as though I too can create an inspired, striking, gourmet dish in my own home.
With a night in the apartment all to myself this week, I had a hankering to try something new in the kitchen, and experiment with creating my own gourmet dish. I always love experimenting in the kitchen when no one is around, so that if I fail miserably, no one will be there to see my tears...and by tears I mean dejected face as I sadly eat my failure. As I almost always do, I began my recipe creation brainstorming by having a peek in my fridge, seeing what flavours go together to create something interesting, and avoid a grocery store mission in the grueling heat. I pulled out all the flavours that would mesh well together (concentrating first on the ingredients that needed to be used up) and began jotting down some notes. After lots of scribbles on foolscap, I felt confident that I had something interesting in the works.
With a great playlist on in the background, it felt therapeutic working on this dish. I had decided to try my hand at making polenta once again, topped with roasted prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and cherry tomatoes, a soft-poached egg, caramelized onions, and a parsley pesto. I had prepped everything in advance to avoid any mid-dish making panic, I was calm, I followed my instincts, I tasted everything along the way, seasoning each and every component to the dish, and by the time everything was ready to be plated, I knew I had a winner! Sure enough, the dish looked pretty damn spectacular on the plate (if I do say so myself), that poached egg bursting with the bright yellow yolk, creating what I refer to as "natures dipping sauce" for the garlic polenta, resting on a bed of salty prosciutto, hugging crisp Ontario asparagus, wrinkled and charred cherry tomatoes nestled into the creamy polenta, with a scattering of caramelized onions and fresh parsley pesto...come on...just look at that dish! It's bloody beautiful! Not only did the dish look beautiful, the components also tasted beautiful together. Just an average at-home chef, with no culinary training, making a gourmet dish for myself at home, in less than an hour! If I can do it, you can too! All it takes is challenging yourself, just a little bit, each time you work on a dish. Before you know it, you'll feel like you can take on just about anything! Does this mean a pop up shop of my own is in the works...hmm not a bad idea...Maybe someday!
1 handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for cooking
1 garlic clove, separated into haves & minced
1/4 red onion, sliced
2 pieces prosciutto
1 handful asparagus, trimmed
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp butter
about 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp white vinegar, separated
salt & pepper
- Place parsley in the bowl of a mortar. Drizzle over 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 clove of minced garlic and a pinch of salt. Using a pestle, grind together the mixture until parsley is very fine and combined with the olive oil to create a pesto. Set aside.
- In a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the 1/4 cup sliced red onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized.
- Wrap each piece of prosciutto around half of the asparagus and lay on a baking sheet. Add the cherry tomatoes to the baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil and season both well with salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes or until all cherry tomatoes have burst. Keep in turned off oven to keep warm until ready to plate.
- While onions are caramelizing and vegetables are roasting, begin cooking the polenta. In a small saucepan heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the 1/4 cup chopped red onion and cook, stirring occasionally until onions are softened. Add the remaining 1/2 a clove of minced garlic and cook for 1-minute.
- Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and slowly add the cornmeal in a slow and steady stream while stirring gently. Stir until mixture begins to thicken then cover and cook for 20-minutes, stirring vigorously every 10-minutes.
- Add in the butter and parmesan cheese and stir to combine and melt the butter. Season with salt and pepper as needed and keep warm on very low until ready to plate.
- In the last 10-minutes of the polenta cooking, make the poached eggs. Make them either one at a time, with poach pods at the same time, or in separate small saucepans. Place 1 tbsp of white vinegar each into 2 small bowls and carefully crack an egg into each one. Let soak for 4-5-minutes. Bring a small pot filled 3/4 way up with water to a boil. Using a whisk stir the water to create a vortex in the centre and carefully slide in the egg and gently stir to keep the egg moving in a circle. The white should wrap around the yolk to form an oval-type shape. Cook for 4-minutes. Carefully remove and dry on a paper towel. Trim any excess white.
- To serve: Separate the polenta into two serving dishes. Top each with half of the roasted tomatoes and the asparagus and prosciutto bundles. Top with the poached eggs and some caramelized onions. Drizzle over the parsley pesto and enjoy immediately.