Romesco grilled polenta in osprey country

Recently I read an interesting article citing how a week spent camping out in the wilderness is enough to reset one own’s circadian clock. Lately I’ve been feeling like I could use a week in the outdoors without the need to connect digitally to the world. We all need our own form of escapism and for Z and I, nothing beats a great camping trip to recharge the batteries.

We have only lived in Portland, Oregon for just over five months after making the move from our former home and beloved San Francisco, but I believe I’ve found the place where I could spend an entire week fishing and relaxing while preparing delicious meals on an open fire. Timothy Lake is situated about 50 miles southeast of Portland in the luscious Mt. Hood National Forest and is the perfect destination to unplug from civilization.

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On a recent trip we filled our packs and headed over for a few nights to camp at a highly recommended primitive spot known as Meditation Point. It is a secluded nook far enough away from the rambunctious crowds across the lake in the organized campgrounds. On arrival we were welcomed by a half a mile stretch of radiant wild bear grass stalks lining the road, seemingly untouched by man.

flowers

Meditation Point is only accessible by boat or on foot, so we donned our backpacks and fishing gear and hiked into a quiet spot where we set camp. The path was flanked by an inexhaustible variety of flora including the native dogwood and brightly colored rhododendrons.

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tent

The scenery around the lake is breathtaking and serene; it is also densely populated by trout which attracts fishing aficionados and the largest concentration of ospreys we’ve ever encountered around any body of water.

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geese

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You can hear this bird of prey’s distinct sound as it hovers above the calm waters looking for its next meal.

ospreys

lake

For the first night’s fare we decided to make a roasted veggie medley right on the coals, a few sausages, and romesco sauce served on grilled polenta medallions, inspired by our friends at Radar.

veggies

Much like risotto, polenta can be a bit laborious, especially while camping. When stocking up for the trip I happened upon a tube of pre-cooked polenta with quinoa, which fit the bill just right.

You’ll need:

  • 2 small roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 large diced garlic clove
  • ½ cup crushed toasted almonds
  • ¼ cup tomato purée or 1 small can
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar to taste
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Yields: 3-4 people
Prep time: 40 minutes

This is one of the easiest recipes I’ve tried especially if you take some of the weight off ahead of time.

Step 1

To save some time, you can roast, deseed, peel and dice the bell peppers prior to the trip, before storing them in a small backpack-friendly container. At camp I first wrapped the fresh bell peppers in aluminum foil before placing them on the hot coals.

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We rotated them from time to time until they were done at around the 20 minute mark.

Step 2

While the bell peppers were roasting, I prepared the rest of the ingredients. I toasted the almonds at home in the oven beforehand and once they cooled off I dropped them in a heavy duty zip log bag for later use. I took the back of my hatchet and started pounding them against a hard surface to get them small enough, but not to the point where they lose their texture as you still want to taste their crunch in the sauce.

almonds

Step 3

Dice the garlic and parsley to incorporate in the sauce later on in the process.

parsley

At this point you want to start grilling the polenta; remove the wrapping and cut into ¾ of an inch slices before placing on the grill. Turn on its other side once you got some nice grill marks on it.

polenta

Step 4

Once the peppers are ready and prepped, chop them up finely and set aside.

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At this point grab a bowl and incorporate all the ingredients in any sequence.

sherry

Tip: When it comes to camping, space is key. Since we would be needing oil and vinegar in the sauce, I mixed them together in an empty small spice bottle at home. Once you use what you need, the rest can be added as vinaigrette for a separate meal.

romesco

Mix with a spoon, gauge viscosity, taste for salt and acidity and adjust to your taste.

As you’re ready to serve, arrange the grilled medallions on the plate and top them with the sauce and a garnish of finely chopped parsley. And there you have it, a spritely and healthy dish for a night at camp.

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As with most sauces, you can also alternate some of the ingredients with different varieties of the same family to add a lil’ spice in life. For instance, I love substituting the red bell pepper for a yellow or orange bell pepper and swapping the red tomatoes for a yellowish alternative such as heirlooms or one of my favorites, the sweet golden tomato.

golden-tomatoes

For this variation I supplemented the almonds with roasted hazelnuts and the parsley with chervil. It’s amazing what a few alternations can do for the sauce while still being a true romesco as you’ve maintained the same basic ingredients.
Since romesco sauce is incredibly flexible, you can also serve it on proteins such as grilled pork or this trout:

trout

Happy fishing!

: Jaime

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