I will have to give a darn good excuse for such a long silence this time, won’t I? What could it be?
Yes, I’m getting married..finally!! I’ve been running around for the past 3 weeks – in order of importance – to find the venue, set the date, collect necessary documents and get them notarised, do a medical checkup, which I don’t know what for, find the wedding dress, and so on. I had no idea what I was putting myself into; it’s quite a lot of work. I was secretly planning for a small intimate event in a winery until I got an absolute ‘NO’ from Mr.O’s parents, and my wedding plan started to shape up in a form completely different to my original ideas. Of course, I was disappointed and they acknowledged it but there is no point in trying to persuade Mr.O’s parents risking disharmony and stress, especially since all guests will be Turks, to whom a wedding is all about dancing. If I’d insisted, the winery wedding could have come true without a doubt because I know they care about me a lot but I decided to put aside my selfish vanity or egoistic dream. At least, it’s been promised that the bridal walkway will be adorned with grapes and good wines will be served along with simple quality food, not typical mass-produced wedding food such as mezes and chicken porridge.
I still feel like I’m dreaming but things are moving fast and a new chapter in my life will begin in 3 weeks’ time, though the Big Day is in August. Why two weddings? There will be even the third! An international marriage is so complicated.
With the big thing going in the background, we have to find a new flat to move into before the wedding ceremony and my blog is being transferred as well. So do you think my excuses justify my absence from the blogging sphere? I think so.
It all started with a huge box thoughtfully packed with all the foods I love, pork, cheese, smoked fish, etc, which Mr.O had brought back from his business trip to Ireland. He proposed to me holding out the box. I got extremely excited and impressed by his selection and packaging, and posted these photos on an expat community, people went crazy and even one lady shouted out “Marry him!”, which got many ‘likes’. Does agreeing to marrying a guy for a box of food instead of a diamond ring make me a cheap girl? I don’t think so. It is a guarantee of a long-lasting, happy, delicious life.
When I reflect on the past 3 years, there has been a lot of changes here. On the personal level, Mr.O’s gastronomic standards have moved up, and Istanbul itself has changed a lot. It seems to be constantly changing and improving, and what it might mean is that a lot of information from last year’s travel guides can be out of date. With infrastructures such as the metro lines on the Asian side and the underwater metro as a start, the gastronomy and food culture have also shifted in many ways, and many restaurants and cafes have closed down and opened. So if you go back to my posts from the earliest time, you will read my rantings on the lack of international foods and diversity. For one thing, it’s not so difficult to find espresso outside the house now, in fact, new espresso cafes are opening almost every week. It’s good news and someone has even come up with an app to help nearby espresso cafes in Istanbul.
Anyway, it’s true that the Istanbul food scene is changing by day and avocados, for example, were so hard to come across but they are at almost all markets nowadays along with other popular international veggies and fruit. Last Sunday when we were at Mr.O’s parents for our first mangal(Turkish BBQ) this year, his mum popped out for a walk and came back with 4 stalks of asparagus, which she had picked off the street, so we threw them on the grill, and they were delicious. She said that Büyükada, the biggest among the Princes’ Islands, has asparagus in the bush, which people can pick, so I’m planning to venture out to the island next week perhaps.
Then, earlier this week while giving Mr.O’s mum a food tour in Beyoğlu after deciding on my wedding dress, I stumbled upon asparagus displayed on the window seal of a cafe opposite Adahan Hotel and she, detecting my excitement, bought one bunch for me to take home. It’s good to know that these are grown in Turkey.
No matter how I love creating new recipes, when it comes to asparagus, I want them simply grilled and seasoned with a simple olive oil dressing. But as I didn’t want to cook anything else that evening, I came up with a tart recipe to stretch it into a proper meal, and then I realised I’d already made a tart with smoked mackerel using filo pastry last week, so this is what I decided to make in the end, Polenta Crust Asparagus Tart.
I used medium to fine cornmeal instead of coarse grind, which takes longer to cook, and I added some chopped scallion and Parmesan cheese into the polenta mix to give the crust extra flavours so that it would be tasty on its own instead of being just a base holding the fillings.
I finished off the topping with fresh new season garlic, lemon zest and the real Parmigiano Reggiano, which my Italian guests had brought. I feel so rich when I cook with authentic and quality food products, which make all the differences.
Polenta, which was popular and I was cooking more often when I first got into food blogging, let’s say 7 years ago, seems to have gone out of fashion. Do you still see polenta on restaurant menus? Grilled polenta chips, polenta cake, plain or cheesy, any kinds, were a great alternative to grain or wheat based recipes. You might tilt your head to the side wondering about the yogurt. Well, it was just a last-minute addition since I had a lot of yogurt whey in the fridge, so you can skip it if you want and just add more stock or water.
This dish got two thumbs-up from Mr.O as well as my German-Dutch guests, who found this way of using polenta very interesting. So why not try this when you’ve got some asparagus?
Asparagus and New Season Garlic with Polenta Crust
1 bunch of asparagus, tough ends snapped off
2 cloves new season garlic
1 Tbsp pine nuts
1/2 tsp sea salt and cracked pepper for seasoning
for the crust
1 1/2 cup cornmeal (more or less depending on the size of the tart)
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup yogurt
1 scallion, finely chopped (optional)
olive oil for brushing
1. Lightly sautee the chopped scallion in a pot and pour in the stock, and bring it to boil and add salt and pepper to your taste.
2. Add the cornmeal, lower the heat to low and stir well for 5-10 mins till it stiffens, and then let it cool on the kitchen bench for 10 mins. Heat the oven to 200’C (400F).
3. While the polenta is cooling, toast the garlic and pine nuts in a pan with a little oil until slightly browned.
4. Add the egg and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan cheese into the polenta mixture and mix well.
5. Pour the polenta into the greased baking pan or tart pan and spread it out to cover the pan using a spatula. Let it cool for 5 mins and using wet palm and fingers, shape and trim the crust.
6. Sprinkle some of the remaining Parmesan cheese at the bottom of the crust and arrange the asparagus and brush with olive oil.
7. Scatter the garlic, lemon zest, pine nuts and fresh parsley over the asparagus, and sprinkle more Parmesan cheese over the toppings, putting more generously over the edges to achieve a crispy crust.
8. Bake for 20 mins and let it cool for 5 mins before serving.