A while back, Rich and I spent a very cold and rainy evening catching Poi Dog Pondering, one of our favorite bands, in concert at Ravinia. The concert was, of course, excellent, but the night so very cold and damp and rainy that we were very happy to have had a nice, filling dinner at one of the festival’s restaurants.
One dish we both really enjoyed was creamy polenta with barbecued beef ribs, and it got me to paying attention to polenta recipes that may come my way…
Like this one (kindof), from Cooking Light magazine. The nice magazine folk called for using quick-cooking polenta, which I could not find in my local market, so I went with this tube pre-cooked of basil, garlic, and corn goodness, which I then decided would be fine sliced and fried until a crispity golden brown in a bit of olive oil.
With the creamy cheesy polenta swapped out for crispity corn cakes, I figured I may as well play around with the sauce, too; replacing the chicken sausage called for with some hot bulk Italian sausage I’d been meaning to do something with for a while, adding some sautéed sliced ‘shrooms because, why not?, and tweaking the pices and seasonings to suit my tastes.
The result? Nice. The polenta cakes were very good and the sauce one of my very best efforts, mebbe even as good as my favorite Doctored Pasta Sauce; but made without starting from a jar of sauce.
If you can find quick-cooking polenta, more power to you, try a nice. creamy batch with this chunky sauce. If you’d rather try the fried polenta cakes, you can fing the pre-cooked tube in the Italian section of your market.
•1 lb bulk hot Italian sausage (or, remove sausage from casing)
•1 cup chopped onion
•3 garlic cloves, minced
•8 oz ‘shrooms, sliced
•1 tbsp butter
•1 tsp Cajun Power Spicy Garlic Pepper Sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
•Dash red vermouth
•28 oz can diced tomatoes
•1 tsp dried parsley
•1 tsp dried oregano
•1 tsp dried basil
•1 tsp Aleppo pepper
•Grated Parmesan cheese
•1 tbsp pepper jelly
•One tube pre-cooked polenta
Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium high heat in a large pot, then add the sausage and cook for five minutes, breaking up any large chunks as you go.
Add the diced onion and garlic and continue cooking for another five or ten minutes, until the sausage is cooked through and the onion tender. Transfer to a colander to drain.
Melt the butter in the same pot, then add the sliced ‘shrooms and Cajun Power (or other hot sauce) and toss to coat. Add a dash of red vermouth to deglaze the pan and loosen any tasty crusty bits, then sauté until the ‘shrooms are nicely browned and just a little crisp on the edges.
Return the sausage and onion mixture to the pan, then add the can of diced tomatoes, the parsley, oregano, basil, Aleppo pepper, and one tablespoon of the grated Parmesan.
Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
Give the sauce a taste. Nice, yes? I thought so, but I also thought it could use a little sumpin’ sumpin’…
I would normally add a tablespoon of sugar to smooth out a sauce’s acidity, but I had had just the day before put up a batch of sweet and spicy jalapeño pepper jelly, so I opted for a tablespoon of that instead and continued to cook for another ten minutes.
Good choice! The jelly added a touch of sweet, and reinforced the zippy spice of the hot Italian sausage.
Keep the now nicely flavored and slightly thickened sauce warm while you set to work on the polenta.
Slice the polenta into 1/4 inch thick pieces, then heat a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and then the polenta slices.
Cook until the bottom is golden brown, then flip and do the same with the other side; mine took about ten minutes per side to cook to this lovely golden brown, but I was using very little olive oil and a non-stick ceramic Scanpan skillet, so your cooking time may be different.
Transfer the browned polenta to a paper towel lined plate to drain, then cook the remaining slices.
Serve the polenta with the sausage sauce on top and a nice sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese over the top.
Nice sauce, nice dinner, and a very nice change from pasta.