Earthy Sweet Solstice Feast
Polenta, roast mushrooms & strawberry shortcakes
Dear friends of Bare Bones,
Happy Summer Solstice! Coincidentally, the earth’s maximum tilt towards the Sun fell on Father’s Day this year. Big ups to all the Dadio’s and Father figures for your steady support and cringe-y jokes. We love you dearly, all ribbing aside.
In celebration of Midsommar, Alli and I hosted friends for a feast this past weekend: an earthy/sweet medley of polenta, roast mushrooms w/gravy, and citrus salad. A full list of ingredients is available at the bottom of this email, and the recipes make for about 6 servings.
And to honor of today’s full moon, called the Strawberry Moon in Ojibwe cultures, Ma has a Strawberry Shortcake recipe.
By the way…have you checked out The Heavy Table before? It’s a fabulous roots-to-table daily on food and drink of the Upper Midwest. Their website is free, and they offer three paid newsletters with in-depth coverage of restaurants, breweries, start-ups & more that you simply can’t find anywhere else. Learn more & subscribe here.
Summer Solstice Feast
Serves about 6
Amid so much bright energy, new summer tunes, and the anticipation of “hot vax summer” (it’s a thing, check the internet), I must say I’ve struggled to manage my energy as of late. With many open tabs and very little sleep, my first move before firing up the stovetop was to make a big ol’ batch of Sun Tea.
In a big, ol’, pitcher, add 1 bag chamomile tea and 1/2 lemon (cut into wheels), for every cup of cold water. Chop up and stir in a bevy of fresh mint and/or basil, interpreting “bevy” as you like. Set the pitcher out in the sun for at least 2 hours to soak in celestial goodness. Strain and serve chilled for a perfect palette cleanser & jet cooler.
Ok, and so then I was going to make polenta from scratch, but for the sake of time I cheated and bought the pre-cooked kind in those sausage-shaped tubes you cut up into disks. No one’s perfect and I’m quite certain that Father Helios approves of such harmless shortcuts. These “polenta suns,” as I call them, take just a few minutes, so we’ll work backwards by starting with the gravy.
Gravy? In summer? I know, just bear with me. This kind is light and mushroom-based, giving an earthy counterbalance to the bright citrus flavors in the rest of the meal. I was able to make the gravy (and the salad dressing) on the fly, sans recipe, thanks to some trusty Bare Bones principles.
I.e. for sauces and gravies, always start with a roux: a fancy French word for aromatic veggies (onion, carrot, celery, garlic) cooked down to a rough, fragrant mush.
To make your roux, melt a quarter stick of butter in a thick pot on medium high heat, while you chop up your onion / carrot / celery into 1/4 - 1/2 inch pieces.
(There are competing theories on what’s essential in a roux. For me, I often go with just onion, especially if I’m adding something fragrant like I am here with mushrooms).
If you want to learn to cook like this — on the fly, no recipe, with whatever’s in season and in your cupboard — there’s still a few spots in our Bare Bones Cooking Class. We started on Monday, but you can catch up with lifetime access to all video lessons and PDF guides. Registration closes SUNDAY at 11:59 pm CDT.
Once the butter is melted, dump the aromatics in and stir until they’re evenly coated with the butter. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes while your chop your garlic (1 clove for the Nordic palettes, 2-3 for the southern cousins), and two of your 8-10 oz containers of mushrooms. I used maitakes for the gravy, as they’ve got a nice peppery flavor, and saved my cremini and portobellos for roasting.
(Sidenote: portobellos are simply the mature form of creminis. Don’t tell them, it’s kinda awkward).
As you chop, pour a glass of white wine for yourself (or for the ancestors if you don’t imbibe), and a measuring cup to set aside. Slàinte!
After 5-7 minutes, the aromatics should be sizzling, the onion turning translucent. If they’re not, turn up the flame. If they’re starting to burn, turn it down a smidge. Stir in your garlic and maitake mushrooms ^^^ put the lid back on and let it rip for another 8-10 minutes while you prep the roasting ‘shrooms and citrus salad.
Set the oven to 475 to roast the portobello and cremini. Pop the stems off all the ‘shrooms, and set them on a baking sheet, ass-up with space between each one so they don’t end up steaming. And tell those portos to quit looking so haughty, they were kids once too.
Now fill a salad bowl with spring greens. For vinaigrettes and dressings, I always use a rich oil as a base, like extra virgin olive, before adding acid at a 2:1 ratio (“use oil like a king and vinegar like a miser”). The tried and true combo is EVOO with balsamic, but since I wanted to call forth all those sweet summer notes, I went instead with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice (orange juice could work, too). Pour 1 cup oil and 1/2 cup grapefruit juice into a Magic Bullet, blender, or just a jar with a lid you can shake without splattering the walls. Add a teaspoon of dijon (to replace vinegar’s tart kick) and a splash of toasted sesame oil, if you’ve got it, for a subtle savory note (teriyaki or soy could accomplish this too). Blend or shake vigorously and set aside. Taste and adjust as needed, then set aside. Top the greens with mandarin slices and sunflower seeds.
Oh snap, friends, that roux is getting close! When you remove the lid and stir the aromatics and mushrooms, there should be some gunky brown stuff congealing at the bottom. This is good — this is very, very good.
Now, take the cup of wine (get your shnozz out of the pot, this thing is about to steam up like a Finnish sauna), and dump it in. Whoosh! Scrape the brown gunk from the bottom with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon so it mixes in with the veggies and the liquid.
Add another 1.5 cup of veggie stock (or 1.5 cup of water with 1.5 tablespoon bouillon). Toss in a bevy of fresh thyme still on its stem, and about half as much fresh rosemary (just needles, no stems — those thangs are very bitter). Put the lid back on and turn the heat to low. Let it simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Drizzle the pan of roasting ‘shrooms with olive oil (not extra virgin), or sunflower oil. Season with salt and peppa and pop ‘em into the oven for 20-30 mins, about as long as the gravy simmers.
Ok, now the polenta! Remember, this kind is from a store-bought, sausage-shaped package because it’s summer and we’re being lazy. Slice open the package and cut the cylinder into 1/4-1/2 inch disks, setting them out on a baking sheet lightly coated with sunflower oil. Drizzle a little more oil on the top of the disks, and dust with lemon pepper seasoning (or just coarse salt w/ fresh pepper).
Breathe. Drink some Sun Tea. Kiss the dog, your partner, your selfie.
When 20-30 mins is up, taste your gravy. If it’s too weak, leave the lid off and let it cook down a bit. Once good to go, strain the liquid from the veggies using a mesh strainer or colander, and set aside.
Open the oven and shake the ‘shroom pan to turn them over. Pop in the polenta and let them cook for 5-7 mins.
Remove the mushrooms and let them cool. Flip the polenta suns with a spatula. Dollop them with herbed goat cheese, set the oven to broil, and pop ‘em back in for 2 minutes so they crisp.
Dress the salad, and serve the polenta suns with roasted mushrooms and mushroom gravy. Toast the Sun, your friends, the bounty of summer and enjoy!
Sun Tea: lemons & fresh basil / mint, chamomile tea
Polenta Suns: 1 tube cooked polenta, sunflower oil, herbed goat cheese
Citrus Salad: 1 bag spring greens, 2 mandarin oranges, sunflower seeds, juice of 1/2 grapefruit, olive oil, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, dijon
Gravy: two 8-10 oz containers maitake mushrooms, 1 large onion, fresh thyme and rosemary, 1-3 cloves fresh garlic, white wine and / or stock
Roast Mushrooms: Two 8-10 oz containers portobello and/or cremini
Bonus: Strawberry Shortcakes for the Strawberry Moon
Note: the name Strawberry Moon comes from the Ojibwe, who held feasts around this time to welcome home the community and reconcile differences.
Makes 9 biscuits (to serve 6 to 12)
The classic strawberry shortcake is built on a biscuit, one made with plenty of butter, which gives it a tender, crumbly texture. If you're serving 4 to 6, cut the quantity of strawberries and sugar in half, and adjust the amount of whipped cream. Or enjoy the biscuits for breakfast warmed, slathered with butter and loaded with fresh strawberry jam.
And iff you don’t feel like messing with making the shortcake biscuits … just pile these tiny sweet gems into a bowl with plenty of cream!
8 cups strawberries, tops removed, and sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons honey, or more to taste
3 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon. baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup cold milk or buttermilk, or more as needed
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a medium bowl, toss the strawberries with the honey and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Work the butter into the flour mixture using a fork, pastry blender or your fingers. (Or, put the flour mixture into a food processor and pulse in the butter.) The mixture should be as crumbly and even as breadcrumbs.
Drizzle the milk over the flour mixture and mix quickly until the dough comes together. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more milk, a tablespoon at a time.
Using your hands, lightly shape the dough into golf-ball-sized balls and place on the baking sheet, tamping them lightly down with your palm to make a disc about 1 inch thick. Lightly brush the biscuits with some of the cream. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.
In a small bowl, whip the cream, vanilla and remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar until soft peaks form.
To assemble the shortcakes, split the biscuits in half, and evenly distribute the cream and then the strawberries over the shortcakes. Serve immediately.
Bare Bones features weekly-ish essays on food, family and what nourishes us from Beth Dooley and Kip Dooley. Learn more about their Bare Bones Cooking Class (registration closes on SUNDAY at 11:59 pm CDT. You can subscribe or share what they’re cooking below: