Chefs spend all week planning and overseeing the execution of elaborate dishes for the pleasure of the dining public. We have often wondered, what do chefs cook, eat and pour on their days off? In this series, Chefs Cook at Home, we visit the personal kitchens of some of our favorite chefs, to see—and taste—what they're up to in their downtime.
Days off are few and far between right now for chef Jennifer Puccio and her partners, who just last month opened a larger version of their beloved Marlowe restaurant in a new location, one that formerly housed chef Loretta Keller's Coco500. This, in addition to keeping The Cavalier and Park Tavern on course, means that when Puccio has the rare chance to cook for herself at home, she sticks with simplified versions of the dishes that satisfy her customers, such as polenta with sautéed mushrooms and a poached egg.
In the restaurant, she serves the dish with wild arugula, shaved parmesan and white truffle oil. (However, if your pantry comes up lacking in the truffle oil department, or you prefer not to use it, you may substitute extra-virgin olive oil in the salsa verde, to fine result.) The salsa verde is deceptively simple—no blender required—and its nuanced acidity is one of those easy restaurant tricks that elevates a few simple ingredients to a dish with explosive-yet-elegant flavors.
"It's been on the menu since we opened [in 2010], and even though the menu is more meat-centric and it's a vegetarian dish, it's hearty, but it's good for all seasons. People love it. I think there would be a huge backlash if we ever took it off," says Puccio, who studied at the New England Culinary Institute and cooked at Oleana, in Boston, and San Francisco's Coi before her first executive chef job, at Cortez, also in San Francisco.
Marlowe wine director Stephen Deyton suggests pairing a sparkling rosé with the polenta. Puccio concurs, saying, "The bubbles in a sparkling wine bring some lightness to the dish, and the minerality of a rosé keeps it interesting."
Recipe adapted from Jennifer Puccio, executive chef and partner at The Cavalier, Park Tavern and Marlowe restaurants, San Francisco
Wine Director Stephen Deyton's Wine Pick: Scacciadiavoli Vino Spumante Brut Rosé NV
Wine Spectator Alternates: Guido Berlucchi Brut Rosé Franciacorta '61 NV (88, $40)
Roederer Estate Brut Rosé Anderson Valley NV (90, $29)
For the polenta:
In a tall-sided, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the water to a boil, then slowly stir in the polenta in a constant stream until smooth. Reduce the heat to low and cook for approximately 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in the butter and cream, and season with salt to taste. Keep warm. (If making in advance, spread polenta in a greased or buttered casserole and let cool. Can be reheated in a gentle oven or in a pan with a bit of butter or oil.)
For the mushrooms:
Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a skillet until it foams and subsides. Sauté the mushrooms over medium heat until they are tender and all of their liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat. Add the parsley and season with salt to taste.
For the salsa verde:
Combine the chopped shallots and lemon juice and let sit for 20 minutes, then stir in the oil and herbs and season to taste with salt.
To finish the dish:
1. Fill a sauce pot half full with water and bring to a simmer. Add the vinegar. Crack the eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl or measuring cup, then gently slip the eggs, one at a time, into the simmering water. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, until the whites are cooked through but the yolk is still visibly liquid. Remove each egg carefully from the water with a slotted spoon, pat dry with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper.
2. Place about 3/4 cup warm polenta in each of four serving bowls. Top each portion with a poached egg. Surround the polenta with mushrooms and garnish with the salsa verde and more salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.