May I just say up front I have a newfound respect for all the health-supportive chefs out there, doing what they do so well, working very hard in the kitchens of spas around the world. And when I type spa, I mean: health spa, retreat, resort, wellness centre – you get what I’m saying right?
A quick, but very necessary side note: my favourite spa of choice is Gaia Resort in Australia, AKA my heaven on earth! And no I wasn’t paid to endorse this spa, it’s just always been one of my favourite places to visit time and time again to rest, relax and recharge.
So why the newfound spa respect? Because creating a spa menu, as I found out today, is not for the faint-hearted. It’s labor-intensive and requires a LOT of thought and preparation. Food MUST be light but nourishing, hearty not heavy and incorporate well balanced, fresh, whole, local and seasonal produce…as I was saying: labor intensive.
Today’s spa cooking class was definitely one of the highlights for me so far. I enjoyed the process of creating, prepping, cooking, constructing and plating my meals – one of which I share with you below – not only because it tastes wonderful, it’s super simple and affordable for you to re-create. You don’t need any fancy appliances, just a knife and the ingredients I list below. So without further ado, I offer up my latest spa-inspired creation…
Polenta, Mushroom and Tomato Towers (in a sweet n’ creamy carrot sauce)
(A Natural Gourmet Institute recipe)
Serving size: 4 portions
- 3 cups water
- ¾ cup polenta (aim for organic)
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 8 sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in hot water until soft (about 10 minutes), strained and coarsely chopped into small pieces
- 1/3 cup parsley leaves, chopped into very small pieces
- 4 Portobello mushrooms, stemmed and cleaned (with a pastry brush – not water)
- 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1⁄2 tbs sugar-free balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 4 large heriloom tomatoes, sliced into strips, about 3/4 inch/2cm thick
- 2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 4 x 1/4 tsp sea salt, divided
- 1 ½ pounds/680g spinach, washed.
- Pinch of sea salt
- In small saucepan, bring 1 ½ cups water to boil. Whisk in polenta, combining until smooth.
- In small increments, gradually whisk in remaining 1 ½ cups water. Add salt. Cover with lid and turn down heat to a low simmer for 15 minutes.
- Stir oil, chopped sun-dried tomatoes and parsley into polenta. Spread polenta mixture onto lightly oiled baking tray to ½-inch thickness. For thicker polenta ‘cakes’ you can also spread in a large square or rectangular slice tin. Leave to cool in fridge until hard enough to slice into 4 circles about 3½ inches/8½ cm wide. Tip: use a cookie cutter or the lid of a jar that resembles the right width needed to cut the circles .
- In small bowl, whisk together oil and vinegar.
- Using pastry brush, brush tops of each mushroom with oil-vinegar mixture and sprinkle with salt.
- Coat non-stick pan with thin film of oil using pastry brush and cook mushrooms covered (top side down), over very low heat for 5-6 minutes.
- Brush mushroom “gills” with remaining oil/vinegar mix and sprinkle with salt. Flip mushrooms and continue cooking, “gill” side down until tender for about 5 minutes.
- Cool and cut out 4 circles using same cookie cutter/lid used to help shape polenta.
- Set oven at 400F/200C.
- Brush with olive oil and sprinkle a little salt on one side only.
- Place on baking tray and roast for 10-15 mins – be careful not to burn.
- Steam washed spinach in covered pot until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Drain and wring well, chop coarsely and season to taste with sea salt.
- In a soup bowl, place mushroom, gill side down on bottom of bowl, then a slice of roast tomato, followed by a nice stack of wilted spinach. Top with polenta cake and ta daaaaaa! Admire your artwork.
- Ladle ½ to ¾ cup of my sweet n’ creamy carrot sauce around the food, creating a little pool of sauce to enjoy with the delightfully delish food you’ve just created.
- Finish with a couple of leaves of fresh basil, parsley or mint if you like.
- Eat and enjoy!