To be honest, this household has recently gone through what I would call an Italian cuisine phase. We’ve been making huge pizzas from scratch (James makes the most amazing parmesan-flavoured pizza base) and cooking up delicious pasta (bucatini all’amatriciana has now become my new favourite), all because my older brother is here for a week-long visit. Having a guest in the house generates some amount of desire to cook extravagantly. But now that the culinary frenzy has died down, we’ve been left with a lot of stray Italian-inspired ingredients sitting around.
Cue savoury muffins. Cheesy and spicy savoury muffins, made extra special with gritty polenta and chunks of semi-dried tomatoes. The polenta gives these puffy muffins a pleasantly crisp exterior; the chilli, a satisfying zing (and this one is pretty zingy, trust me); the cheese, a savoury must-have; the semi-dried tomatoes, a hint of juicy sweetness. I threw in some garlic powder too, for an added kick of flavour. And you can’t go wrong with the fruity, nutty perfume of extra virgin olive oil.
They could do with a little salt, I’ll admit. Something to remember next time. But I like James’ suggestion, too: to cut them open and slather them with salted butter. That’d be nice. However, if you’re one for simpler flavours or would just like to keep everything nice and healthy, have these muffins as is. Bake them the night before for a quick breakfast pick-me-up in the morning.
Savoury Polenta & Semi-Dried Tomato Chilli-Cheese Muffins
1 cup self-raising flour
3/4 cup polenta (cornmeal)
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup milk, cold
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped semi-dried tomatoes
- Preheat oven to 180ºC and line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper cases.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, polenta, grated cheese, chilli flakes and garlic powder. Mix well, set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the egg, milk and olive oil. Pour mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently fold in the chopped tomatoes. Make sure not to overmix the batter.
- Carefully fill each muffin case about 3/4 full. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the tops are firm and golden.
- Remove from oven and let muffins stand in pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Best eaten warm!
So. That Coldplay concert was certainly something. Blazing pyrotechnics in gorgeous colours, dazzling laser lights sweeping the stadium, dozens of massive inflated balls bouncing above excited heads, fifty thousand glowing wristbands flashing in time to the music, and best of all: the electrifyingly mind-blowing performance. It was almost surreal, being part of the audience. Chris Martin and his amazing band didn’t disappoint. Neither did The Temper Trap; they were superb. And, despite not being familiar with them, The Pierces did a lovely job as the opening act.
A few days ago, I made a lemon polenta cake infused with thyme and olive oil. Why? Because I simply adore a good lemon polenta cake. So why not subtly spice it up with the taste of zippy thyme and fruity olive oil? Damp and crumbly, dense and refreshing. This is a cake you’ll want to make again. And again. And again.
The first time I actually tried a lemon polenta cake was when I baked a simple version from Nigella Lawson’s fantastic repertoire. I thought it was absolutely phenomenal. The texture was so unique, the taste was divine. Not quite a cake in the traditional sense (thanks to the pleasantly crunchy and gritty texture provided by the cornmeal), but a gorgeous Italian classic nonetheless.
This thyme and olive oil version comes glazed in a sharp, tangy lemon syrup filled with hints of thyme. You may omit the glaze if your taste buds prefer a subtler zest in desserts. The cake tastes amazing on its own, especially when chilled in the fridge. And trust me when I say that this is the type of cake that tastes even better the next day!
Glazed Lemon & Thyme Polenta Cake
1 cup polenta (fine cornmeal)
1/2 cup almond meal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup (scant) raw caster sugar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
For the lemon & thyme glaze:
Juice of 1 large lemon
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup raw caster sugar
- Preheat oven to 150°C and generously grease a shallow 7″ springform cake pan.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the polenta, almond meal, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until well combined and creamy.
- Gradually stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Mixture will start to become foamy.
- Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla and thyme leaves. Mix well.
- Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined.
- Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. A good indication that the cake is almost done is when it starts to pull away from the sides of the pan.
- Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 20 minutes. In that time, prepare the glaze.
- To make the glaze, place the lemon juice, sugar and thyme sprigs in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil on low heat, stirring continuously so the sugar dissolves. Once mixture becomes fairly thick, remove from heat and discard the thyme sprigs. Pour the liquid into a small bowl and leave to cool for awhile.
- Once cake has cooled significantly, very carefully, remove the cake from the pan and place on a large plate. Cake is quite soft and fragile, so be gentle!
- With a spoon, drizzle or spread the glaze over the cooled cake. Decorate with a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves if desired!