Polenta Gets its Groove On
So I left you with your Polenta stretched lazily out on a board, platter, or pan – waiting patiently to be dressed and ready for the party. It’s kind of like having everything on but your earrings. “Whatever shall I do?”- pined Scarlett. What next? It is in Serving Polenta that the dish comes to life!
No one I know just eats Polenta. You kind of need to dress it up a little. It is the stage – not the performance. However, it is such a key menu item so as to totally transform any dish that includes it. By virtue of its existence on the plate, it takes any stew, sauce, meat or fish recipe to a new level. Besides that, it simply tastes great with anything you decide to serve with it. Even Broccoli Rabe or a simple fried egg shine a little brighter when paired with Polenta. All that and you can make it a day ahead if you like, and also its one of the easiest things to make. One of my readers, Grace, who resides in Denmark, loves to prepare her Polenta, porridge-style, with chicken bouillon, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese and a drizzle of Truffle Oil and snipped chives. I can think of nothing better – heavenly – so simple, yet such a perfect combination of flavors.
My “Nawthern” Italian friend, Tony, tells a story about the “Triestini” (as he calls them) members of his family up near the northern border in Italy, making their Polenta in the very traditional copper pot. At the end of the process, a solid crust is left inside the pot that they call a “helmet”. The children run around the house after the cooking is finished wearing this “helmet” on their heads. The last time he visited them, they prepared their Polenta with rabbit. Tony, misunderstanding the dialect for a moment, thought the ragu contained buckshot. After many hands flying and gesturing, and finally taking to the kitchen, Tony figured out they were referring to Juniper Berries! I so love this story!
One of the most interesting and unique ways to serve Polenta, in a dome shape, is offered by the “godmother” of Italian cooking and someone I think of as a mentor, the great Marcella Hazan. She instructs: when your Polenta has just finished cooking, wet a large bowl or individual ramekins for individual servings with some cold water and swirl it around. Then pour in your polenta.
Smooth the top and put it aside for 10 or 15 minutes and then voila! Just invert it onto your serving plate or individual plates.
But wait! It gets better! Take a spoon and gently scoop out a well in the top of your dome.
You get it now don’t you? Serving Polenta this way makes the perfect little nest for your stew, sauce or whatever. It also lasts for days in the refrigerator.
Hold on—get ready to see later in this post how we’ll fill this thing.
Let’s make a very simple and rustic dish with sausage and wild mushrooms and maybe a little Madeira for a touch of sweet drama. This promises to be a delicious little something that is easy and quick to make. You can substitute slices of beef – preferably tenderloin – for the sausage if you like. Prepare it the same way as for the sausage only leave your beef a little on the medium rare side. It can be a dinner, lunch, or a GREAT brunch dish – definitely provocative served in the dome shape but just as lovely served on squares of Polenta that are fried or grilled.
SALSICCIA E FUNGHI
(Sausage and Mushrooms)
Serves about 4
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 –1 1/2 lb. Sausage pieces removed from casings ( mixture of mild and hot)
6-8 oz Wild mushrooms – mixed (or Creminis or Baby Bellas) and sliced
1/2 Large onion
1 Clove Garlic – chopped finely
1/2 c. Madeira or Sherry
1 Tbsp Fresh Rosemary
1/2 c. Golden raisins (Soaked first in a cup of boiling water to plump for about 1/2 hour)
1 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Parsley
Saute the sausage until just browned. Remove the sausage from the pan and reserve.
To the same pan, add the onion and garlic – Saute until tender.
Add the wild mushrooms and cook stirring about 3-4 minutes.
Add the sausage back to the pan & add the Madeira or Sherry.
Add in the Rosemary and cook down until the sauce reduces a little.
Then add the raisins. Mix together and cook for just a couple of minutes to heat through.
When finished add the chopped fresh parsley.
That’s it! Easy enough?
OK! Let’s change things slightly. So let’s say you made your Polenta yesterday. It has set in the pan and you are scratching your head wondering what to do with it.
Take out your pan and cut the Polenta into squares. Now you have a choice: 1. You can heat the squares and serve; 2. You can fry them; 3.You can grill them.
Last, but with more than a little drama, we have the DOME with the Sausage and Mushrooms. Troppo Bella!
Now you have to admit – this was NOT difficult. There are not too many ingredients to juggle. You can make your Polenta a day ahead if you like. You can also make the Sausage and Wild Mushroom dish, Salsiccia e Funghi a few hours ahead as well. So plan your Carnevale party or any party or brunch and dazzle your family and friends by Serving Polenta!
PARLA COME MANGI!
Also: See the NEW RECIPE OF THE MONTH for March on LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE!
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography