Baking & DessertDinner

By Suzanne Lehrer | April 11, 2011

Photo: Suzanne Lehrer

One Ingredient: Two Ways By Suzanne Lehrer

Whenever I eat rosemary, I can’t help but think of the rosemary oil hair treatments my mom would give my sister and me when we were younger (supposedly very good for your hair)-but I didn’t think of the herb as a culinary ingredient. Alas, no longer! Rosemary, as I discovered this week, is a very versatile herb, in that it straddles the line between sweet and savory-and equally enhanced both of the different dishes I made.

Photo: Suzanne Lehrer

The name rosemary is derived from the Latin word “rosmarinus,” or “dew of the sea.” A little dramatic-sounding, sure, but very fitting when you consider that rosemary, which can grow up to 6 feet, 7 inches tall, can grow in partial droughts, requiring not much more than a sea mist. (Note: if you have no sea mist handy, fear not-rosemary is still very easy to grow at home, even indoors).

The dew of the sea has long been romanticized by the Greeks. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is often depicted in ancient artwork as being draped with rosemary, and in Ancient Greece, scholars used to wear wreaths of rosemary around their heads because it was thought to enhance memory. This notion still stands today — rosemary has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain.

Photo: Suzanne Lehrer

Rosemary also became a staple for commemorative events, such as weddings in the Middle Ages, where it was a sign of fidelity, as well as funeral ceremonies, where it was a sign of remembrance. Rosemary oil, first extracted in approximately the 14th century, was the base for “Hungary water,” supposedly first created for a Queen of Hungary, Europe’s first alcohol-based perfume, which was also used to treat ailments such as gout.

Herewith, a couple of delicious rosemary dishes I developed this week-and the best added bonus? Your whole kitchen will smell like rosemary.

Rosemary Polenta with Mozzarella, Roasted Tomatoes, and Walnut-Rosemary Pesto

Coming up with this dish was pretty much a no-brainer. I love polenta, crave it constantly, and it had been too long since I last had it. Polenta always goes really well with mushrooms, which lend a deep, earthy flavor, so I was hoping rosemary would have the same effect of elevating the polenta without smothering it. I also have been itching to make my own pesto and I was very happy with the outcome. This rosemary-based pesto is subtler than basil-based pesto, which worked well here, and I liked showcasing two types of rosemary in one dish. As for the mozzarella-that’s obvious, everything is better with it. Feel free to add as much as you want.

I served this dish with greens to make it more of an entree. I used watercress, which is a new favorite of mine and a good bitter counterpart to the polenta, but any old green will do.

ROSEMARY OLIVE OIL CAKE

Recently, I’d seen a few recipes for olive oil cake and could not get the idea out of my head. As someone who dreams about pound cake in any form, this seemed like such a delicious, savorier iteration that I was dying to try. Most pound cakes are just one big glob of butter (which is why I love them), but this more sophisticated version is flavorful, while not sending you into a food coma with a couple of bites. This dish would also be great with fruit, as the recipe below suggests, but I found that the rosemary added an intense layer to the flavor of the cake-after all, it’s a tried and true fact that rosemary and olive oil are incredible together. And this cake is no exception. Especially when served with whipped cream, which I strongly recommend.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For Pesto
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
For Polenta
  • 2 tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 1/2 cup fast-cooking polenta
  • 2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 cup fresh mozzarella
  • Olive Oil
For Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice(about 1 lemon)
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup rosemary olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Whipped cream, to serve

Directions

To Make Pesto:

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly pureed and mixed.

To Make Polenta:

1. Heat the oven to 350º. Coat the tomatoes in olive oil and lay on a baking sheet and roast for about 45 minutes, until softened and juicy-wait too long and you'll dry them out.

2. Every box of polenta varies a little in the instructions for cooking time and water-to-polenta ratio. Some boxes say 6 minutes cooking time, and some will say even 1 minute. Follow the instructions on the box to make 2 servings-making sure to purchase a faster-cooking polenta, and as you must constantly whisk the polenta and your arm will be exhausted if it's cooking for 40 minutes! Boil salted water and mix in the polenta slowly, bringing down to a simmer and whisking continuously until thickened. Stir in butter in salt if desired for a creamier taste. Pour polenta out onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with rosemary and set aside.

3. Heat olive oil in a pan over low-medium heat. For a smoother texture, pour the polenta into the pan to saute as soon as it comes off the stove. For a more firm texture, wait for the polenta to cool when it will cut away into squares before sauteing it in the pan. Either way, let it get crispy in the pan, about 3-4 minutes a side. Towards the end, lay mozzarella over the top until it melts, briefly flipping the mozzarella side down onto the pan to crisp the cheese as well. Serve the roasted tomatoes over the polenta, and drizzle with pesto.

To Make Rosemary Olive Oil Cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350º and thoroughly butter a loaf pan, approximately 9" x 5". Whisk yogurt, lemon juice, and lemon extract together until smooth, and pour into a large bowl with the sugar and combine. Whisk in eggs, olive oils, and chopped rosemary. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Slowly stir in flour mixture into wet ingredients bowl until well-mixed, taking care not to overmix.

2. Pour batter into pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a knife comes out smoothly. Serve with whipped cream.

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