Month of January: “Essentials of Italian Cooking” Recipe: Polenta cake with raisins, dried fig and pine nuts

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

Today is my birthday. January 29th. For some strange reason everything today has gone awry. WordPress is posting that it’s January 30th and I can’t seem to figure out why and I can’t seem to change it. It is not January 30th!!! I wanted to make a cake from this cookbook instead of my never fail favorite coconut layer cake with custard cream and meringue frosting. I drove to three stores to get the ingredients for this endeavor. Trader Joe’s always has pine nuts and I mean always but not today. The co-op parking lot never is full at 10 am, even on a weekend, but on this particular morn, there was nowhere to park. They had pine nuts but no cornmeal which they usually stock. Can I just say that trying to make this cake for my birthday has been strangely difficult from beginning to end? It’s like this cake just did not want to be made. But in spite of the odds, it was. In the end, it was not exactly what I was hoping for. Oh well, sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

All of my life I never enjoyed the fact that my birthday comes in January. Winter is my least favorite season. Who really likes sub zero temperatures, slippery ice, chilling winds and especially the long long dark nights? Ah…not me! However this year while lying in the quiet of my bed at dawn, I noticed that by the time my birthday rolls around the solstice is well over a month past. And for first time I sensed on a very subtle level that the darkest days were over. My birth time felt more like the arduous part of the journey was in the rearview mirror and now there was no where to go but towards more light. It was a wild and precious moment and I saw my annual celebration within a deeper and more grateful framework. The kind of moment that brought me not only joy but also a liberating feeling to be consciously aware of the slow and steady cosmic movement of the ebb and flow that is available to me at any time. But I felt especially blessed that the awareness washed over me today, on the day that I was born.


Ingredients: 16 oz. water, 5 oz. cornmeal, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1.5 tablespoon olive oil, 4.5 oz. sugar, 2 oz. pine nuts, 2 oz. raisins, 4 oz. dried figs chopped, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, 4 oz. all purpose flour

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 C / 400 F
  2. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and pour in the cornmeal in a thin stream, letting it sift through your clenched fist while constantly stirring with your other hand.
  3. When all the cornmeal is in, add salt and olive oil.
  4. Continue to stir for another 15 seconds until the mixture thickens slightly and pulls away from the sides. At this point, remove from the heat.
  5. Add the sugar, pine nuts, raisins, figs, butter, egg, and fennel seeds to the cornmeal. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Add the flour and mix well to form a smooth, uniform batter.
  7. Smear a 9 inch round tin with butter and dust with flour, and pour the batter into it, using a spatula to smooth it off.
  8. Bake on the upper shelf of the oven for 45 – 50 minutes.
  9. When the cake is out and while it’s still warm, loosen the sides of the cake from the tin by using a knife. Turn the cake out onto a plate, and then flip into other-side-up onto another plate.
  10. Serve when cake is completely cool.

3 Replies to “Month of January: “Essentials of Italian Cooking” Recipe: Polenta cake with raisins, dried fig and pine nuts”

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