polenta with pear, gorgonzola, and pine nuts

When I first started cooking, I followed recipes as though they were mandates. My scientific brain liked — and still does — precise measurements followed by detailed instructions. Preparing a recipe was very much like following a chemistry experiment. And you do NOT deviate from chemistry instructions. Not unless you like explosions, that is.

That method of cooking has it’s advantages, but the rigidness of that approach was often frustrating and stressful. If a recipe called for 2 cups of chicken broth and I only had 1 and 3/4 cup of chicken broth, well then I couldn’t make that dish, now could I? And I certainly couldn’t replace that extra 1/4 cup of liquid with, say, water or vegetable broth. Nope. If it wasn’t in the instructions, I didn’t do it.

Over time, I’ve forced myself to play with recipes and not follow them word for word, line by line. I started with baby steps – changing the amounts of measured spices, or swapping one spice or herb for another. It was a slow start, but making myself play with ingredients and becoming more creative with my cooking has completely paid off. It’s liberating, and even more importantly, it’s fun!

A book that has become an increasingly valued resource in my kitchen is The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. For someone like me, someone who struggles with creativity in the kitchen, this book is a must have. The pages are filled with listings of ingredients, and below those ingredients are recommendations for other ingredients that complement or work well with that flavor profile.

An example? Look up Gorgonzola cheese and you’ll find that honey and pears match quite well. Look up pine nuts, and you’ll see pears and honey listed as complementary flavors. Look up polenta, and you’ll notice that Gorgonzola cheese and honey are listed as ingredient pairings that work.

Put them all together and what do you have? A very nice little appetizer. Voilà!

Looking for a gift for a someone who loves to cook? Buy The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. They’ll love it.

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Polenta with Pear, Gorgonzola, & Pine Nuts

Ingredients
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup quick-cooking polenta
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
Preparation
  1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in polenta and salt. Reduce heat to low and cook for 4 minutes or until thick, stirring often. Stir in butter. Pour polenta into a 9 inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray, spreading evenly. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of polenta. Chill polenta for 1 hour or until polenta is very firm. Cut into 2-inch squares or use a small cookie cutter to make shape of your choice.
  2. Combine diced pear, Gorgonzola cheese, pine nuts, lemon zest, and honey in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Add 1/2 inch olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat.  Working in batches, fry polenta pieces until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer fried polenta to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Transfer polenta to a serving platter. Top each polenta square with a rounded spoonful of the pear and Gorgonzola mixture and serve.
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11 Responses to “baked macaroni and cheese casserole”

  1. 1
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    Brian @ A Thought For Food — February 21, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

    I agree that mac and cheese is a must! Happy belated Valentine’s Day!

  2. 2
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    Jenny — February 21, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

    So glad you had a relaxing time. When I moved to New York fourteen years ago – Jim’s family had never eaten homemade macaroni and cheese – they were GOBSMACKED that I made it from scratch. Now my SIL and nieces make it…so proud. This mac & cheese looks great.

  3. 3
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    Maria Raynal — February 21, 2012 @ 7:46 pm

    The boy will come around, promise! My four-year old nephew is firmly enconsed in the plain pasta with olive oil stage. Glad you enjoyed your getaway!

  4. 4
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    DessertForTwo — February 21, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

    I’m so glad y’all had a wonderful little Valentine’s Day.

    Stunning photos and dishes too, by the way 🙂

  5. 5
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    Patty Hetrick — February 22, 2012 @ 12:49 am

    This is my kind of macaroni and cheese! Can’t wait to make it:) And love your blog!

  6. 6
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    Kathryn — February 22, 2012 @ 4:53 am

    What a wonderful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day – it sounds so idyllic. Macaroni and cheese is one of my all time favourites, rather worryingly I expect I could finish off the whole thing!

  7. 7
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    Di — February 23, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

    Since July, when I began enjoying your “Merry” blog, I decided to venture further into the food-blog world expecting to find more useful and delicious recipes/food ideas. I didn’t. Yours is the only one that offers uncomplicated recipes and ideas which do not require elaborate equipment or compex processes with ingedients that my husband will eat! I appreciate the relative simplicity of your recipes and wish there were more of them! I’m 62 years old with a full-time job in New York City and a draining commute. It’s wonderful to be able count on you to deliver both fresh ideas and old favorites that are not too demanding. Thank you, thank you for a mac & cheese recipe WITHOUT bescamel! PS … I don’t know a five year old who eats dressed pasta …. just keep trying!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — February 23rd, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

      Thank you SO much for your comment. You’ve just made my day!

  8. 8
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    Di — February 24, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

    Happy to hear I made somebody’s day! Enjoy your weekend.

  9. 9
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    Mirtha — March 6, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

    just stumbled upong your blog today… lost track of which links lead me here, but I am liking it! My 7-year-old son will not eat mac&cheese. not even home-made. He is the only child (or adult) I know who does not like mac&cheese.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — March 7th, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

      Glad you found my blog, Mirtha. Welcome!

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