The Sauce: Sausage-Tomato Sauce – Diced tomatoes and ground sausage seasoned and simmered with garlic, rosemary and oregano.
‘Great Sauces Transform Good Food into Gourmet’
Oliver’s gruel not homemade polenta
Is it worth the waiting for
Till we reach eighty-four?
All we ever get is gruel.
Everyday we say a prayer
Will they change the bill of fare?
Still we get the same old gruel.
Homemade polenta isn’t in the same solar system as Oliver’s gruel from the 1968 hit musical “Oliver”. But polenta has much the same texture as porridge, mush and grits. These may conjure memories of dishes you’ve resisted tasting. Wait no longer. Polenta in this Italian-inspired dish has gourmet appeal and texture. The right yin yang balance of one part polenta grits to almost five parts liquid stands up in the sausage-tomato sauce.
Rather than bake, fry or grill thick polenta, heat it in this sausage tomato sauce doused with shredded cheese. Fontina has sharp, nutty flavor and when exposed to heat, melts into a creamy layer of stretchy cheese.
I’ve been making versions of this dish for months; more sauce, thicker polenta, fresh versus dried herbs, with or without sausage. The final dish is comfort food that tastes gourmet. Polentina, a savory marriage of polenta and fontina cheese.
Prep Time: 10 Min | Inactive Time: 15 Min | Cook Time: 50 Min | Yield: 4 Servings | Level: Moderate
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup half & half
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 3/4 cup polenta grits
- 1/4 cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
- 1 Tbsp butter
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 lb hot Italian sausage
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
- 1/2 tsp minced fresh oregano
- 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup grated fontina cheese, 4 oz
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Special Equipment – large skillet, 5×9 or 6×8 container
1 Combine milk, half & half, chicken stock, fresh thyme and 1 clove smashed garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil then turn heat off, cover and steep for 30 minutes.
3 Add cheese, butter, salt and pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a rectangular container about 5×9 or 6×8 inches. Leave on counter to set up.
5 Add diced tomatoes, water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
Polenta can be made with cornmeal rather polenta grits but it has a smoother texture.
Substitute an open bowl or small saucepan or frying pan for the 5×9 or 6×8 container. Then scoop out 8 equal portions of cooled polenta into the sausage tomato sauce.
Substitute 1 24-ounce tube of pre-cooked polenta sliced into 8 rounds for homemade polenta.
Use 2 fat links of sausage squeezed out of the tubes. Buy sausage when on sale and freeze in individual snack baggies, then in a large freezer zipper bag. Defrost 2 for this dish.
Serve this rustic dish with a fresh green side salad.
When making polenta, double the recipe and save half in the fridge for Polentina later in the week.
- Exchange fresh thyme for 1 teaspoon dried thyme.
- Exchange polenta grits for yellow cornmeal.
- Exchange hot for mild sausage.
- Exchange fresh rosemary for 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary.
- Exchange fresh oregano for 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano.
- Exchange fontina for gruyere.
Inspiration – Helen Horton
Cook with Sauces
Written by Helen Horton
Photographs by Helen Horton
Updated: May 27, 2013