I’ve spent a lot of time in Cleveland lately and really have learned about their food scene. One of my favorite restaurants in the city are Lola’s and Lolita which are owned by restaurateur Michael Symon, author of several cookbooks including Michael Symon’s Carnivore which is the perfect name for a chef who describes his cooking as “meat-centric.” He also earned The James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Great Lakes and Gourmet magazine chose Lola as one of “America’s Best Restaurants.”
So when I saw that one of Symon’s Food Network shows was dedicated to Eastern European cookery with recipes just like the ones I used to cook with my Grandma Simon when I was young, it really hit a memory chord. In particular, the recipe for mamaliga, a cornmeal mush like polenta, brought back a lot of great memories. It not only was fun to make and eat but my brother Tim and I used to make a pun (a very feeble one, I might add) about it by saying “your mama will never leave you if you eat your mamalega.” But give us a break, we were very young.
Mamaliga with Smoked Ham
3/4 cups chicken stock
2 cups fine yellow cornmeal
Oil, for deep-frying
1/4 pound butter
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup diced smoked ham
1/4 cup ricotta
Heat the stock to a simmer and then whisk in the cornmeal.
Whisk butter, salt, and pepper into the cornmeal mixture. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to touch, roll into balls about the size of a golf ball.
Poke a hole in the middle and fill with 1/4 teaspoon each of the ricotta and ham and roll up.
In a deep saucepan, heat 4 inches oil to 375 degrees F. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes in hot oil. Drain on paper towels and serve.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped marjoram
1 cup crumbled feta
1 cup day old bread crumbs
1 teaspoon paprika
Serving suggestion: Crusty bread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Brush a casserole dish with olive oil. Slice tomatoes evenly 1/8-inch thick and place 1 layer in a 1 1/2-quart casserole. Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle with half of herbs and all of feta. Do another layer of tomatoes and repeat process with herbs and salt. Top with bread crumbs and paprika, and cook in the oven for 40 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.
2 large heads cabbage (outer leaves for rolling, inside leaves for stuffing)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 cups barley, cooked in beef stock according to package instructions
1 large onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 large egg
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
2 cups strong beef stock
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoons sweet paprika
If the leaves don't peel off, blanch the whole head in boiling water until each layer strips off. You need 16 big leaves. Return the leaves to the pot and cook for 2 minutes until pliable. Drain and cut out the thick, tough part of the stem.
Mix the stuffing ingredients together and form a 1/4 cup of it into an oval. Place it in the center of a leaf. From the stem end, roll it up once. Tuck in the sides and roll up the rest of the way.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
In the oil, sauté the onions to golden, then sauté the garlic for one more minute. Add the tomato sauce and beef stock. Whisk in the paprika. Shred the remaining cabbage and spread it on the bottom of a large baking dish. Arrange the stuffed cabbages seam side down, on top of the shredded cabbage. Cover with the sauce. Bake covered for 1 hour, adding more liquid as necessary to keep cabbage moist. Uncover and bake for another hour.