Gail Ciampa : Crispy frites make a tasty Easter appetizer
In 2007, chef Matt Jennings and his pastry chef wife, Kate, were busy running their Farmstead cheese shop in Providence, Rhode Island, and running their La Laiterie restaurant. They were featured in Food & Wine magazine, and James Beard Foundation nominations were to follow. So was a name change to Farmstead for both cheese shop and restaurant.
The Jennings left for Boston last summer, and earlier this month Matt Jennings opened his Townsman restaurant there.
During his time in Providence, he shared several recipes as part of The Providence Journal’s Chef’s Secret feature, including this vegetarian treat that makes a nice appetizer this Easter weekend.
La Laiterie’s Crispy Frites
1 pint whole milk
1 cup vegetable stock
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup polenta (see note)
2 pinches chopped mixed herbs (sage, rosemary, parsley, tarragon)
1 cup of olive or canola oil blend
1/2 cup of additional cornmeal (for coating fries)
Garlic Aioli (recipe follows)
Bring milk and stock up to a gentle simmer, not a boil as you should be careful not to boil over. Add the kosher salt. Slowly add the polenta while stirring vigorously. Turn the heat down to low so that the polenta doesn’t bubble out of control. Keep stirring the polenta in with a wire whisk, until fully incorporated. The polenta should start to get very thick after about 2 minutes.
At this point, add your herbs and fully incorporate them into the mixture. After another 2 minutes, check the consistency of your polenta. It should be thick — but not stiff — and should not be too runny like porridge. It should be closer to well-cooked oatmeal.
When this consistency is achieved, pour the polenta into a 9-inch by 9-inch pan or casserole dish. Allow it to cool completely. During this time, get a nonstick saute pan with 1/2 inch of olive oil or canola oil warmed up. The oil should be hot but not smoking.
Slice horizontally and then vertically to create finger-sized fries. Remove them from the dish with a small spatula, carefully. Dust the polenta fries with additional cornmeal. It’s best to do this in a bowl. Make sure to brush off any excess cornmeal.
Fry the polenta to a lightly golden color, and season with additional kosher salt if needed.
Serve piping hot with aioli.
For an alternative dipping sauce, dress up store-bought mayonnaise with a couple of tablespoons of Dijon mustard and a dash of hot sauce such as Tabasco.
Note: The polenta should be coarse, stoneground and long-cooking, not instant.
Roasted Garlic Aioli
1 large head of garlic
2 tablespoons blended olive oil or canola oil
2 egg yolks
1 minced garlic clove
1 small lemon, juice of
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Roast the garlic head by cutting a thin slice off the very top of the head to expose the tops of all the cloves. Set the head in a shallow baking dish, and drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the head and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake in a 300-degree oven for 1-1/2 hours or until garlic is very soft. Set aside.
When it’s cool, squeeze the pulp out of the garlic into a blender and add egg yolks, garlic, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper. Purée till smooth. With motor running add the reserved oil from roasted garlic plus the additional 1-1/2 cup extra virgin oil in a slow steady stream and continue processing till emulsified. Make sure you do this slowly, so that you don’t break the emulsification.
Gail Ciampa is food editor of The Providence (Rhode Island) Journal. Email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @gailciampa.