March 6th, 2007
I lived in San Francisco for years, and it still shocks me how many restaurants I never got to. Being a starving student, and then living off a meager pastry chef’s salary while living in one of the most expensive cities in the world had its benefits! I ate at all of the best cheap joints. I knew the ins and outs of the best taquerias in the mission, and the best bakeries for fluffy hum bao in Chinatown. Delicious baguettes? I had them- probably for dinner.
But the disadvantage was missing out on many of the pricier, and better known places. One in particular that I always wanted to try was the Zuni café. A restaurant synonymous with San Francisco, it is has been on Market street for almost 30 years, and is well known for its Mediterranean influenced menu. Even though I have traveled to SF frequently in the last few years, it was only this March that I finally made it to Zuni. I went with my dear friend Missy, and as usual, grossly over ordered and made her try everything.
Something on the menu caught my eye, and kind of surprised me in its simplistic brilliance. Bright yellow, steaming hot, and full of flavor, a big bowl of polenta was brought to our table. Seasoned just with salt, and aged parmesan, it was fantastic, and wonderfully comforting. While polenta is often served as a neutral side dish, or smothered in a sauce (not that there is anything wrong with that!) I think it is rarely appreciated as an independent dish.
While it has a very nice flavor plain, it is best when enhanced with chicken broth, salt, and in my best-case scenario- cheese. Use your imagination, because anything from soft goat or blue cheeses to the classic aged parmesan add to the flavor of the finely ground corn meal.
Below is a basic recipe for soft polenta- consider a bowl for dinner or a late afternoon snack.
-6-2/3 cups of chicken broth
-1 garlic clove, minced
-1 tsp kosher salt
-1-2/3 cups polenta
-2 Tbs unsalted butter
-1 cup grated parmesan, (or other type of cheese)
1) Combine the broth, garlic and salt in a heavy sauce pan or pot.
2) Bring the broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Gradually sprinkle in the polenta, whisking the grains in constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low right away, and continue to whisk.
3) You want to simmer the polenta until it is thick, creamy, and pulling away from the sides of the pot, while continuing to whisk. This should take about 25 minutes.
4) Then turn the heat off, and add the butter and parmesan. Stir until the butter and cheese melts, and then season to taste with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.