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.
- 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.
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.
You can also make a lovely vegetarian version with tomato sauce, fresh or steamed vegetables and a dollop of creamy cheese as in this video below:
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.
Serves 8 or makes 2 dinners for 4.