Maple Pumpkin Polenta

Yesterday, Gigi Hudson Valley participated in a great event in support of Olana, the historic estate just outside Hudson. The fundraiser was entitled “Eat for Art’s Sake.” Each participating Hudson Valley eatery who volunteered their services, created a dish to be sampled at the gala, inspired by one of Frederick Church’s paintings (the artist who also built Olana in 1870.)

Gigi’s owner, Laura Pensiero,  chose “Clouds Over Olana”.

Inspired by the painting, Gigi Hudson Valley presented a Vegetable Hash over Maple Pumpkin Polenta. While the dish was not a literal interpretation of the painting, it served as inspiration, and it allowed Gigi HV to take advantage of great local and seasonal ingredients! As Laura noted, “It’s a very colorful plate that went with the back drop of the setting and  looked like a fall day. What we were trying to do was grab the season and bring that into the food, which this painting seemed to represent best.  We used Hudson Valley ingredients: New York State maple syrup and polenta from Wild Hive Farm and Store, in Clinton Corners,  with pumpkin from Mead Orchards, in Tivoli, as well as carrots, turnips. squash, and celery.”

We thought we would share the recipe for the Maple Pumpkin Polenta, enjoy!

Maple Pumpkin Polenta

This is among the most popular side dishes during the fall and winter months at Gigi Trattoria. The addition of pumpkin and maple syrup adds a seasonal and a festive hue to polenta. We buy ground cornmeal from Wild Hive Farm in nearby Clinton Corners. Any coarse grain cornmeal can substitute. Enjoy the slightly sweet notes balanced by a little spice from cayenne pepper.

Serves 4

1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼ cups finely ground yellow cornmeal
1½ cups pumpkin puree (boiled,drained,and pureed or 100 percent natural canned pumpkin)
⅓ cup pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon butter

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and the olive oil, reduce the heat to simmer, and gradually whisk in the cornmeal, a small amount at a time, to prevent clumping. Reduce the heat to low and cook the polenta, stirring often, until tender and it is pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and cayenne and cook another minute or two, then remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano and the butter. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve warm.

Nutrition: Polenta (cornmeal) is a whole grain. The pumpkin contributes enough beta-carotene to supply about 25 percent of your daily needs of vitamin A.

Note: This recipe can be found in the Gigi Good Food Cookbook, Hudson Valley Mediterranean.

Staff Spotlight – Dave Meltzer

This week’s staff spotlight shines a light on our master baker, Dave Meltzer. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Dave grew up associating baking with the loving times spent in the kitchen with his mother Frieda, who passionately cooked from Love and Knishes throughout his childhood. This is how he came to make his first challah and bagels, which are still two of his favorite preparations. When he first came on board the Gigi Team, we were all skeptical about producing our own bagels — I clearly remember saying, “If they’re not as good as H&H or Ess-a-bagel, I don’t want to go near it.” Needless to say, Dave nailed it and we now have golden bagels ready for toasting and enjoying with our local butters, jams, cheeses and spreads.

Dave formally studied baking at Orange County BOCES and has taken continuing education courses over the years at The Culinary Institute of America. Most of his knowhow however, results from experience and intuition.  Dave has owned his own bakeries in the past, including Rock ‘n Rolls in Highland, NY. Last year he decided to sell his partnership and take leave of the joys and headaches of self-employment once and for all. After many years of the alarm clock going off at 3AM, and managing the administrative side of the business, Dave decided it was time to just enjoy his passions for baking and simplify his life. His intention was to spend more time with his fiancé Leslie. Tragically she passed away earlier this year.

Joining the Gigi Hudson Valley team, Dave moved from Poughkeepsie up to Tivoli, late this spring. He describes the area as “comforting” – long drives in the pastoral countryside are helping him heal and move forward. He also says, “Joining the Gigi team has been a great move for me. There is kindred spirit, helpfulness and flexibility in allowing creative outlets.” One of Dave’s Gigi experiments includes Cheddar Jalapeno Sourdough that always sells out quickly. He also provides us with one of the best multigrain I’ve ever enjoyed and a delicious crusty Italian baguette.

What’s he working on for fall? A yeast leavened pumpkin bread that we’ll be selling by the loaf and adding to both of our brunch menus (Trattoria and Market) in the form of scrumptious French toast.

Dave dreams of one day writing a book, saying, “I love sharing recipes and that is the philosophy at Gigi, sharing.”  He feels like he’s having fun.  As he points out,  “Who works these hours if they aren’t having fun?” I couldn’t agree more.