madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking

how to cook artisan polenta (with sausages)

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creamy and comforting, stone ground polenta with a pork sausage ragu

creamy and comforting, stone-ground polenta with a pork sausage ragu

Quick? Did I say quick?

No, I didn’t.

I do however say divine, comforting, luscious, creamy, heart warming.

Making a good polenta is a bit like making love. Slow and careful is generally better than plasticky and prepackaged. Tubes are for losers. I mean, polenta tubes. I hate them, they taste like soap.

I do occasionally use instant polenta as an emergency gluten-free meal. However, once you try the rustic, custardy flavor of organic stone-ground polenta there’s hardly a way back.

You will say:  it takes at least 40 minutes! I have lost count of the times I have heard “I don’t make real polenta because I have to stand forever by the stove “.

The truth is that with a bit of planning you can have a life and get two dinners out of it. I always cook twice as much so I can make baked polenta with the leftovers. It’s delicious and freezes well.

To minimize the chance of polenta sticking to the pan and therefore the continuous stirring, you need a tall pan with a heavy bottom. You also need to cook it over the lowest possible heat. Use a heat diffuser if your stove is too hot.

This way you need to stir it every 5-10 min which allows you to clean the kitchen, do laundry, make phone calls, play with FB, anything which would keep you home on a rainy evening. Even better, make a party of it. Polenta is ideal to feed a crowd and even your most clumsy non-cooking friend can take care of it.

Polenta with sausages

From top left: soffritto, sautee sasages, deglaze, add tomato and herbs, add salt and water to polenta, simmer, polenta before cooking (watery) and after (creamy)

 

Recipe

  • 400 gr (approx 1 lb) coarse polenta cornmeal, organic and stone-ground if possible.
  • 10-12 sausages (Umbrian sausages are flavored with garlic and black pepper, but the classic Italian style fennel sausages would be acceptable)
  • 1 each of the following: onion, carrot, celery stick, fresh bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, clove
  • 1/2 cup red or white wine
  • 3 lb canned peeled or crushed tomato
  • grated pecorino or Parmesan to taste
  • good quality, fresh and peppery olive oil

Make the sauce:

Using a pan which can accommodate the sausages in a single layer, saute onion, celery, carrot and sausages in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When the sausages start to brown, deglaze with wine.

I generally use white wine but in the picture above you can see that I have used a generous amount of red wine. This is simply because today I had a bottle which had been open for a couple of days and needed to be finished.

Note that red wine makes your sauce more acidic so you might need to correct it with 1-2 teaspoon sugar. This is generally not necessary if you use white wine. Just taste your sauce before serving to make sure.

Once the wine is evaporated add tomato, bay leaf, clove and a sprig of rosemary bound with kitchen string. Simmer over very low heat for at least 1 hour or until thick and velvety.

Make the polenta:

You need approx 1 lt (1 quart) water per 100 gr (3.5 oz) polenta. Mix the polenta meal with 2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 lt ( 2 cups) water at room temperature. This will soften the polenta and will avoid lumps.

Bring to the boil the rest of the water (3.5 lt / 14 cups) in a large pot then reserve 2-3 cups of it in another container. Different brands of polenta will absorb different amounts of water so you might not need it all. Pour the softened polenta in the boiling water, lower the heat to minimum and cook for 40-50 min. Stir as explained above, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan. If the polenta becomes too thick before 40 min add the reserved warm water by the cupful so it will not stick to the bottom of the pan.

The polenta is ready when it comes easily off the sides of the pan. This might not be clear the first few times you make it, so please taste it which will also help you to decide if you need more salt.

Serve:

Ladle the polenta into deep bowls, cover with a generous layer of sauce, one or two sausages, a drizzle of a fruity/peppery extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan or Pecorino.

Leftovers:

Keep the polenta covered while you have dinner. If it becomes too cold it will be difficult to remove it from the pan. Transfer the leftover polenta in an oiled baking dish. Top with leftover sauce, sliced sausages and sliced mild cheese as mozzarella or caciotta. You can also add sautee mushrooms or a few handfuls of cooked, chopped spinach. Sprinkle with more grated cheese and put away or freeze for another dinner. When needed, bake at 200 °C/390°F for 30 min or until lightly golden on top. Defrost before baking.

Baked leftover polenta a great dinner made with no efforts!

Baked leftover polenta a great dinner made with no efforts!

Serves 8 or makes 2 dinners for 4.

Author: madonnadelpiatto

Former scientist, I now run B&B and cooking school Alla Madonna del Piatto in Assisi, Umbria, central Italy, together with my husband Ruurd, daughter Tea and truffle dog Google. We love good food and wine, travel, beautiful handicrafts like textiles and pottery. We feel fortunate to be able to share our magical mountain with many friends from all over the world.

18 thoughts on “how to cook artisan polenta (with sausages)

  1. Fantastic recipe! Can’t wait to try it out. I’ve only made instant polenta in the past few years. Looking forward to tasting the real thing.
    Wish you were here or I was there for a hands on lesson. It’s just a matter of time. I’m feeling the pull!

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    • Give in to the feeling! There is nothing like being taught by a maestro! I have spent much time in Italy, and the best memories I have came from the kitchens of teachers that I am proud and fortunate to call friends now.

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      • thank you Jeff! You can’t buy grits in Italy but I understand from the web that polenta and grits are made with two diffrent types of corn so taste and flavors are different. How about making a comparative test yourself?

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  2. We would have a grand time together!

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  3. Letizia, What a great dish for a COLD!!! night. Are you familiar with grits? If so, can I substitute them for polenta??
    Ciao amico mio!

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  4. I’m a loser, I guess, as I’ve only ever had the kind that comes in a tube. I agree, it is not impressive. I think I need a lesson in making my own, Letizia. Maybe it’s time for a return trip to your beautiful agriturismo!

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  5. Thank you very much for the visit to my blog.
    Polenta and sausages are such a marvelous dish. My mum used to serve them on a large wooden table on the table. It was a common giant dish.
    Have a nice day and cheers :-D

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  6. I enjoyed this post immensely, the photos are great, and appreciate the hint about softening the polebta first. Now to search out some organic stoneground polenta.

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  7. I don’t think there’s anything quite so comforting as a steaming mound of homemade polenta! And no substitute for doing thing the long way—my solution back in Italy was that funny contraption you mounted on top of the pot that would stir the polenta mechanically. They make an awful racket but save so much effort. Unfortunately, they don’t exist here in the US.

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  8. Have you tried the microwave method of cooking polenta? I’m not talking about instant polenta – the regular kind. I’ve tried it a few times and it seems very similar in taste and texture to the pot variety – and a lot less work. Your method isn’t that much work either – but just curious about your experience with the MW method.

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    • Hi Brian, I did try and in my case it was not a success. What I look for in the final result is a creamy but rustic consistency, not soupy. Others like their polenta quite solid so they can slice it. I find that cooking in the microwave gives it a slighly gummy feeling which I am not fond of. I’d rather use the instant polenta if I am in a hurry and use properly cooked stone-ground polenta as a treat. Thanks for asking!

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  9. Extremely interesting, Letizia! I wish I could see the bag you bought your polenta in… the “stuff” available here would never take that long to cook… 15 minutes, yes… we will be in Italy in the fall again, but in the Piedmont area for Terra Madre – and I will be looking for some stone ground polenta to bring home – would love your tips. (PS – I DID make the preserved eggplant in oil – and it TASTES delicious, but looks dreadful, so no post on my site until I do it again next year. I squeezed the moisture out of it with so much zeal the strands of eggplant are flat!) :)
    Valerie

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    • Hi Valerie! the bag I bought had no lable because it comes from a small shop and he has a large bucket of it and sells it by the kg. Fabulous that you get to go to Terra Madre where you will see all sorts of marvels and for sure some spectacular polenta.I prefer the yellow coarse type but you will find white corn polenta and probably also buckweat polenta. That is rather wild in taste but you either love it or hate it. I wish I could try some of that eggplant presevre, it’s may be not pretty but I am sure it’s lovely!

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