One Perfect Dish: Chef Zivko Radojcic’s Seasonal Polenta With Perennial Appeal

Courtesy Zivko Radojcic

Drawing from family recipes, the globe-trotting chef gives us tips on how to season this springtime favorite to perfection.

“Whenever I go back home, my family cooks for me,” explains chef Zivko Radojcic, newly returned from a visit to his native Serbia which doubled as menu research for his dual uptown restaurants Cibo e Vino and Marlow Bistro. “From my cousins to my Mom and Dad, they always surprise me with old family recipes and new creations,” he explains, adding that many of his most celebrated dishes, on the surface rustic Italian fare, contain Serbian roots but “twisted in certain ways.”

First establishing himself at some of the city’s finest restaurants, including Picholine, Jungsik, and Alta, and stints at Eleven Madison Park and Daniel, Radojcic has moved on to create low-key, elegant outposts fusing Mediterranean flavors, like whole oven-roasted fresh branzino and homemade porcini tortellini, with distinctly Slavic dishes like goulash and a beet-tarragon take on mostarda. Combining the pasta-rich gastro-culture of Italy, the fresh seafood of the coastline, and the Alpine traditions of rich cheeses and artisanal meats, Balkan cuisine is one of the most diverse in the world, and also one of its most overlooked. Radojcic hopes to change all that.


Courtesy Zivko Radojcic

Though his “official” mentor is the renowned Chef Terrance Brennan, the restaurateur comes from a long line of gastro-professionals, including his great aunt, pastry chef to Josip Tito, the first President of Yugoslavia. Radojcic honors this legacy with offerings such as Chocolate crémeux with caramel, hazelnut crunch, and coffee espuma and “strawberry diplomat almond”, an exquisite balsamic Linzer tarte. But his menus shine, particularly, in their perfectly finessed entrees and homemade pastas, which include squid ink tagliolini with shrimp, calamari, prosciutto, chili flake and tomato and homemade ricotta gnocchi with prosciutto, basil, and feta.

“I source my food by seasons,” the chef explains, detailing weekly trips to the Union Square Farmers’ Market for produce. He pairs this with regular shipments of wild mushrooms from Foraged & Found Edibles, fruits and vegetables from Local Bushel Farm and Blue Moon Acres, and organic eggs from Sauder’s Amish Country Eggs.

Ultimately, Radojcic's inspiration comes from the favorite dishes of his youth, which receive an honored place on the menu. On the eve of the launch of his third restaurant, located next to Marlow Bistro and still under wraps, the chef has provided DEPARTURES with a coveted family recipe—sumptuous creamy polenta with poached egg and wild mushroom ragout—and tips on how to season this springtime favorite to perfection.


Courtesy Zivko Radojcic

Polenta

Poached egg with green or (truffle) creamy polenta asparagus and ramps polenta

120g polenta
500g milk
250g water
75g butter
65g parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
30g truffle pâté 

Method: Mix milk and water in the pot on high heat. Add polenta slowly, whisking until there are no lumps. Reduce heat to low, and cook for 10-15 minutes, whisking the entire time. Add more water if too thick. Add butter, cheese, salt. The polenta is finished when creamy and individual grains are tender. If you are not serving the polenta right away, cool down on a sheet pan. If you are serving right away, add truffle pâté or ramps pistou.

Asparagus

In the salted boiling water, drop asparagus and blanch for 30 seconds. Place into ice bath to preserved color.

Ramps Pistou

150g sauteed ramps
25g parmesan
3-5g salt
110g olive oil
20g blanched parsley

Mushroom ragout

100g shallots (small dice)
125g mushrooms(sauteed and chopped)
50g marsala wine
175g veal jus
25g butter
Splash lemon juice or sherry vinegar
Pinch salt
Pinch black pepper
50g truffle pâté

In the sauté pan, pour oil and diced shallots. Sweat for 3-4 minutes on medium heat. Add sauteed Mushrooms. Stir together. Deglaze with marsala wine. Add veal jus and bring to boil. Cook until sauce until glazy but not too thick.

Add butter, salt, black pepper, truffle pâté and a splash of lemon juice to lighten up the sauce. (Cool down and keep in fridge if you are not going to use it right away.)

Poached Egg

I cook my eggs in the water bath using an immersion circulator (sous vide).

Set water bath on 145 F, take raw organic eggs and place in water bath. Cook for 1 h-1:15 h minutes. Put eggs in ice bath. Cool if you are not going to use right away. For restaurant service, reheat on 132 F for 15-20 minutes.

Home Tips for Perfect Poached Egg

Put at least 2qt pot on the stove with 1-1.5qt of water, hand half a cup of vinegar. Don't salt, it may break the egg white.

In the smaller coffee cups, put cold water and spoon of vinegar. This will help egg whites to stay around the egg yolk. Break the egg and place in the cup for 1 minute. Bring water to boil. Using the whisk, stir the water to create a gentle whirlpool to help egg white to wrap around the yolk.

Add egg and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until white is set. Using a slotted spoon, take the egg and drain on the towel or kitchen paper. Trim off any straggly bits of egg white.

Assemble

Mix warm polenta with ramps pistou and place two spoons on the plate. Warm blanched asparagus with some butter and water. Put on side of the polenta. Place poached egg next to asparagus. Put warm sauce on top of egg. Garnish with micro parsley and sorrel.

Chef Zivko is currently working on his first cookbook of family recipes, to be published next year.