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Sunday, September 18, 2011

In the Kitchen with David: Polenta with Sausage Ragù

It was Sunday.  I had grand plans for dinner.

Then I did twenty miles of marathon training, which knocked me on my ass.  I've done five marathons , and about the same number of half-marathons, with the next race in three weeks.  Twenty miles shouldn't be any big deal, and while I was out training, it was fine:  once I came home and showered, though, I was toast.

David took over the menu I prepared for tonight, and it was utterly brilliant. 

This recipe is featured on the cover of Italian Cooking at Home, and David initially went "meh."  He changed his tune when we sat down to eat, though.  It has deep, savory flavor, and is the perfect Sunday dinner for fall/winter. 

The secret is to use really good sausage.  We have sausage made by a local market in Anchorage, and if we have good sausage made daily, I can't imagine that it's too hard to find elsewhere.  You could certainly use pork sausage, which the original recipe calls for, but David used Italian chicken sausage.  In addition, you could alter the recipe by using only dried or fresh mushrooms, although the combination of dried and fresh mushrooms gives the recipe terrific texture.

Yes, the hat makes him look like a hipster.  David just shaved his head, which is his annual birthday tradition.
Total cooking time is about an hour and a half, although a lot of it is inactive time. 

Polenta with Sausage Ragù
Adapted from CIA Italian Cooking at Home

For the ragù:
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, preferably crimini
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. Italian chicken sausage, either sliced or taken out of its casings and crumbled
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 leeks, white and pale green portions only, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup chopped parsley

For the polenta:
2 quarts water
Kosher salt as needed
Fresh-ground pepper as needed
2 cups cornmeal
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan

Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Allow to sit for 20 minutes, then drain, rinse and chop them into chunks.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil on medium heat for the ragù.  Add the sausage and cook until the fat is rendered, about 3 minutes.  Add the onion, leeks and porcini mushrooms, and cook for another 10 minutes.  In a separate dish, mix the water with the tomato paste and then add to the saucepan.

We cut the sausage into chunks with the casings on, which saves some time.
Stir the mixture to incorporate the tomato paste and water, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to low.  Add the fresh mushrooms and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If the ragù starts to stick to the pan, add a little water or chicken broth to loosen.

While the ragù is cooking, start the polenta.  Bring the water to a simmer and add a generous pinch of kosher salt.  Add the cornmeal slowly, whisking briskly as you add it. 

Simmer the polenta on low heat for 45 minutes or until cooked to your taste.  It should be soft but not mushy.  Stir the polenta occasionally so it doesn't stick.

Take the polenta off the heat.  Taste for seasoning--a bit of fresh-ground pepper should be added, and a little salt if necessary--and add the butter and cheese, stirring it into the polenta.

Add the parsley to the ragù.  Make a bed of polenta in a warmed pasta bowl, then top with the ragù.  Top with a small amount of freshly-grated Parmesan if desired, although it doesn't need it.

Serves 4 as a main course. 

We served with a side of zucchini coins broiled with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Food/wine pairing:  This dish needs a light red wine, preferably one from northern Italy or Spain.  We served a Mencia from Bierzo, which is close to Portugal.  Alternatively, a Dolcetto or Barbera from Piedmont would be delicious.


  1. Wow, I am always amazed by the concept of running a marathon, good for you. I would also be 'meh' at seeing that recipe but reading the most makes it very tempting.

  2. I just love the flavor that Italian sausage I know I'd love this fabulous sounding dish. And I'm in awe of all the marathons you've completed!!! You're incredible!!!

  3. This sounds like the perfect treat after a long run!

  4. Oh, that sounds fabulous! Sausage AND polenta? Be still my beating heart! ...and you running marathons and 20 miles for training? You're super awesome! So nice that David can take over in the honey can make toast and toasted sandwiches!

  5. Sounds wonderful. Nice that you can take over the kitchen. My hubby makes a good sous chef. Thanks for a great recipe.

  6. Thanks for the comments! I lucked out with David's cooking abilities--he came equipped with his own pasta machine and paella pan, so it was clear that we were going to eat well.