It’s hard for me to think of dinners that aren’t pasta. When I have sausages in the refrigerator, for example, I think of all of the different pastas I can make with them: rigatoni with sausage and broccolini, ziti with sausage, onion, and fennel. I think I took it too seriously when Sophia Loren said: “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
A year or two ago, though, I developed a dinner that feels like a pasta dinner that isn’t a pasta dinner, it’s a polenta dinner. I take whole sausages, brown them in olive oil, add onions and garlic to the pan, make a quick tomato sauce, and braise the sausages in there. Meanwhile, I cook a pot of polenta at the same time.
If I have any polenta advice, it’s this: get the slow-cooking stuff, nothing quick cooking. If it says “quick-cooking” or “instant” on the bag, don’t use it.
I get my polenta at the farmer’s market from Roan Mills and it’s the best I’ve ever used. It looks golden straight out of the bag and takes nicely to long, slow cooking. People on Instagram asked me for my recipe, but it isn’t so much a recipe as it is a technique. To wit: I bring five cups of water to a boil (you could use chicken stock or a mixture of water and milk, but water works fine). Season the water with salt and whisk in a cup of the polenta on high heat.
Whisk it constantly, and then when it starts to get thick, lower the heat and put a lid on. Let it cook like that, stirring every ten minutes or so with a wooden spoon, for an hour. At the end, you stir in butter and Parmesan. It’s dreamy stuff.
As for the sausage part of our story, it’s as simple as slicing an onion, slicing some garlic, and opening a can or two of tomatoes. Brown the sausages in olive oil, remove. Then in that same pan you add your onions and garlic.
You sauté until the onion is wilted and the garlic starts to turn lightly golden. Add a pinch of chili flakes along the way, and then you add your tomatoes.
Let that come to a boil, nestle the sausages back in, then lower to a simmer.
It’s as simple as letting that cook until a thermometer inserted into a sausage reads 160. Remove the sausages to a plate and continue to cook the sauce on medium heat until it’s nicely thickened.
To serve, ladle polenta on to a plate, top with a sausage or two, and spoon the sauce over the top. Garnish with chopped parsley and a sprinkling of Parmesan.
You could serve with a glass of Chianti, but I recommend the Negroni route. Things are tough out there, we could all use a stiff drink right around now.
Sausages Braised in Tomato Sauce Over Polenta
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup slow-cooking polenta Look for polenta that doesn’t say “instant” or “quick-cooking.”
- Olive oil
- 3 to 4 sweet Italian sausages The thicker the better here. (Save your skinny sausages for breakfast.)
- 1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- Pinch red chili flakes, to taste
- 2 cans San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand This will make lots of sauce; you can use the leftover sauce for pasta.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- chopped Italian parsley
Start by making your polenta. Bring five cups of water to a boil and season with salt so it tastes like a good broth, but not like the sea (or it’ll be too salty). Whisk in the polenta and continue whisking as it cooks to avoid lumps. Keep cooking like this until the polenta thickens; it’ll start forming large bubbles and look slightly volcanic. Lower the heat to low and cover with a lid.
Stir the polenta every ten minutes with a wooden spoon. Let cook for 45 minutes to an hour. (It doesn’t really matter, as long as you let it go a while; if it gets too thick, add a little more water.)
In a large skillet, pour in 1/4 cup olive oil and heat on medium high heat. Add the sausages and lower the heat to medium low. This is a tricky part: you want to brown the sausages all over, but if the heat is too high they might burst. So play with the heat as you brown them, taking your time to get them good and brown all over.
Remove the sausages to a plate, crank up the heat in the skillet, and add your red onion and a pinch of salt. Cook the onion until wilted and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook until light golden brown. Add a pinch of red chili flakes and then add the tomatoes (careful, they’ll spatter). Add a good pinch of salt and allow to cook on high heat, stirring, until the sauce starts to come together (a few minutes). Nestle the sausages back in, trying to submerge them as much as possible.
Cook at a high simmer, rotating the sausages every so often, until the sausages read 160 on a thermometer. Remove the sausages to a plate and continue cooking the sauce on medium-high heat until nice and thick. You’ll have too much sauce, but that’s okay.
To finish, remove the lid from the polenta. If it’s still very runny, cook on medium heat until thickened to your liking. Off the heat, add the butter and about 1/2 cup of the grated Parmesan. Taste here and adjust with more salt and Parmesan.
To plate, ladle the polenta on to plates, top with the sausage, and spoon the sauce over the top. Garnish with the parsley and more Parmesan and serve right away.
Lemon Polenta Cake (Martha Stewart)
Tomato and Sausage Risotto (Smitten Kitchen)