Let’s talk comfort food for a second. Are you the chicken soup type? Me? I want sausage and polenta over almost anything else. It’s warm, soft and versatile. (Like a cardigan.) We eat it with stew and chili, or with marinara sauce. Sometimes we sprinkle it with a mountain of cheese and bake until gooey. Then there’s probably our favorite way–topped with sausage and peppers. I’ve given it a little makeover here by adding some zucchini to the sausage and peppers, and a big boost of flavor to the polenta with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto.
Now if you don’t have zucchini (or you’ve had more than you can handle this year already–it happens), then by all means, leave it out. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, use veggie sausage or substitute cannellini beans, or just leave it out. The same goes for the cheese. Use what you like. Hard cheeses like Parmesan (or the real Parmigiano-Regiano) and Pecorino Romano pack a punch with a small amount of cheese. They really make the polenta special. If you don’t have them on hand or would rather use something else, go right ahead. Asiago would be good. Mozzarella on top would be excellent. If you’re vegan, leave out the cheese and butter and use nutritional yeast and olive oil. Revamp it to your own liking, I say.
Bonus: Cube any leftover polenta and give it a quick fry in a little olive oil for breakfast the next day. Maybe add a poached or fried egg on top. One recipe, two meals. And that’s how it’s done. My kind of comfort food.
Tasty fall dinner sausage and peppers with polenta
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup coarse, stone-ground cornmeal
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1/4 cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (I used Fiore Sardo)
- 2-4 Tbsp. chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp. basil pesto or a small handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
For Sausage and Peppers:
- 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. Italian sausage links (can also use bulk sausage)
- 2-3 bell peppers, cut into strips lengthwise
- 1 large onion, cut lengthwise into strips
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes (or diced fresh or canned tomatoes)
- 1 small zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
- salt and pepper to taste
- extra basil leaves cut into thin ribbons (chiffonade), for garnish
- shavings of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, for garnish
Butter an 8″ square baking dish or medium bowl.
Bring water to a hard boil in a large pot–I use a stockpot. Add salt.
While whisking, slowly pour cornmeal into the boiling water. Continue whisking until it comes to a rolling boil. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir frequently. The mixture will slowly thicken to a porridge, but will be done when the bubbles in the center of the pot are very large and the polenta starts to come away from the sides of the pan. This takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
Add butter, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto. Stir well. Pour into prepared pan and set aside. Keep warm until ready to serve.
For Sausage and Peppers:
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little oil and let it heat until it shimmers. Add the sausage and cook, lowering the heat as necessary, until cooked through. Remove from the pan and transfer to a plate to cool a bit before cutting them into slices. Meanwhile, add a little more oil to the pan if the sausage was lean and didn’t release any fat. Add the sliced onions and peppers. Cook until they start to soften. Add the zucchini. Cook until the vegetables brown and soften. Add the sausage and cherry tomatoes last and continue cooking just until the tomatoes start to pop and release a little juice.
Spoon some of the polenta into a shallow dish or plate. Top with the sausage and vegetables. Garnish with extra basil and cheese shavings. Serve hot. Makes enough for 4-6.
– article + photos: Lindsey Johnson of Cafe Johnsonia –