Polenta squash pie
I went through a bit of a music drought this year, about a three-month period where I wasn’t blown away by much of anything, and Cat Power’s new album Sun is one that opened the floodgates and got me excited again. It’s emotional and, well, Cat Power-y, but not in the sad way longtime fans expect; and despite the less-depressing words and electronic-tinged music that’s on a different planet from the rest of her catalog, Chan Marshall actually sounds more like herself here. My good friend Amanda (who wrote a fascinating story about her for Pitchfork) said when she went back to listen to her 2006 album The Greatest, she found that Marshall’s voice sounded empty compared to this new one, because she wasn’t totally in it, and she’s right. That album is gorgeous and soulful, but it’s missing some of the “power” that exists on Sun.
It’s all too often that Chan Marshall’s breakdowns and emotional turmoil overshadow her music, but it sounds like she’s mostly in a healthier place here and looking forward; in the title track she sings, “We are free, you and me, we can finally run.” (It’s also worth noting that Sun is wrongfully being billed as a breakup album: The breakup — with actor Giovanni Ribisi — happened after the record was made). In “Real Life” she sings, “Real life is ordinary/ Sometimes you don’t want to live/ Sometimes you gotta do what you don’t want to/ To get away with an unordinary life” and in the 11-minute-long “Nothing But Time,” she sings to Ribisi’s teenage daughter about being young and wanting to be somebody (“I see you, kid, alone in your room/ You got the weight on your mind you’re just tryin’ to get by/ Your world is just beginning/ And I know this life seems neverending/ But you’ve got nothin’ but time/ And it ain’t got nothin’ on you”).
So, for the food — most of the reason for this pie (or quiche, or whatever you want to call it) is because it’s bright, yellow and looks like a sun (thanks to polenta, yellow summer squash, corn, tomatoes and baked eggs); but it’s also a healthy and well-balanced dish because Sun seems to find Marshall in a healthier place than in the past. And sort of on that same note, the onions in it start out spicy, but they mellow out and sweeten as they’re cooked. This is definitely a labor-intensive dish, but so was Sun, which Marshall wrote and recorded completely on her own (I didn’t do that much; I had a little bit of help in the kitchen!). The music has the perfect energy level for a lowkey Sunday morning; instead of wanting to hide under the covers and cry, Sun makes me want to get out of bed and start the day.
Crust slightly adapted from The New York Times. Serves 4-6.
For the crust:
3 cups water
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup mascarpone
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
For the filling:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium yellow summer squash, shredded (about 2 cups); let sweat in strainer for 30 minutes and pat dry with a paper towel, or squeeze out liquid with a potato ricer
1/2 cup corn kernels (fresh or thawed from frozen)
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
5 yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
4 eggs, separated
Salt and pepper to taste
• Bring water to a boil. Whisk as you add the cornmeal to the water in a constant stream (this helps prevent clumps). Turn the heat down as low as it can go and cook for an hour, stirring thoroughly about every 10 minutes.
• Heat olive oil in a frying pan; add onions and garlic and cook until soft, a few minutes. Add shredded squash, cook on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the corn, then cook another five minutes.
• Remove from heat, mix in ricotta, one egg, basil, and salt and pepper.
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take cornmeal off stove and while it’s still hot, stir in the mascarpone, salt and pepper. Brush a tart pan (or 10-inch springform pan or round cake pan) with olive oil. Pour polenta into the pan, cover with plastic wrap and press it into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, about 3/4 of the way. Remove the plastic.
• Pour the squash mixture on top of the polenta. Top with tomato halves.
• Bake for 10 minutes and remove dish from the oven. Use a spoon to make three craters down the middle of the pie. Crack an egg into a small bowl and pour it into the middle crater. Repeat with the remaining two eggs.
• Transfer pan back to the oven for another 30-40 minutes, until the eggs have set. You can keep the yolks runny if the dish is served immediately, if not they will firm up but still be tasty.