Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pour On The Polenta!

One of the Christmas-time traditions we have came to look forward to is the polentone, or big polenta feast.  Each year on Santo Stefano, the day after Christmas, our friend Giorgio would simmer up some sauce, stir up a pot of polenta, and serve it up on a big board, crowned with plump sausages.  The board pulled double duty as serving tray and dinner plate, as everyone was provided with only a fork and told to go to town on the section in front of them.  He cleverly put the meat and mushrooms in the middle of the polenta, so you had to "fare una strada" (make a road) through the polenta to reach the rich stuff.

It's a fun tradition and a great meal concept that really encourages joviality and interaction.  Giorgio has two enormous wooden boards that he uses for his polentone.  We couldn't find anything suitable for our US version, so we went to a restaurant supply store and purchased two industrial-sized baking sheets for our festa, which worked very well.

This method of serving polenta originates from Abruzzo, where its toppings vary depending on province.  Some places serve it with sausages, other traditions use porcini mushrooms, while some prefer lamb pieces.  It is always generously dusted with roughly-grated aged pecorino cheese.

For the Sauce:

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, minced
2/3 cup dry red wine
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
Fresh sausage (spicy or mild) - enough for the number of guests
1/2 cup mushroom broth (soak dried mushrooms in 1/2 cup of hot water for 1/2 hour; or use a mushroom broth boullion cube), or rich vegetable stock

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until soft but not brown. Add the wine and allow to partially evaporate, then add the tomatoes and a little salt and pepper. Cut the sausages in half if they are long, poke each with a fork, and drop into the sauce*. Add the mushroom broth, cover and let simmer about 1 hour. Uncover and let simmer another 1/2 hour.

*I put the sausage in for about 10 minutes, then remove all but three or four pieces, so the sauce doesn't become too fatty, while leaving a few pieces in to flavor it nicely. Put the removed sausages into a big saucepan, add a bit of the tomato sauce along with some more red wine, cover and simmer about 1/2 hour. With a big crowd I put them into a baking pan, add some sauce and wine, cover them and put them in a 250` oven to cook, so they're off the stove until I'm ready to serve them.

For the Polenta:

You can prepare traditional, long-cooking polenta for an authentic taste, or the quicker-cooking variety.  Since the "real" polenta involves 45 minutes of constant stirring, I follow Giorgio's method of using the faster version; not the "minute polenta" which he says has no texture to it, but the variety that requires about five minutes of cooking.  An Italian polenta meal works best.  It comes in vacuum-packed bricks and is found in import stores.  For ten people I used 1 1/2 packages of polenta, albeit a few of the guests were light eaters.

Follow the cooking directions on the package, bringing salted water to a boil in a very large pot, then lower the heat and sprinkle the polenta grains in slowly, while stirring with a heavy wooden spoon. 

Pour It On!

When it is thickened but still soft and pourable, turn it out onto the sheets, smoothing it out with a wooden paddle or spoon.  You may have to add a little hot water first to get it to a pourable consistency.

Bring the pot of sauce to the table and ladle it out evenly over the polenta.  Sprinkle generously with grated pecorino cheese.  Top with sausages (or cooked mushrooms, if you prefer).  Dig in and enjoy!


janie said...

Fabulous! I want to do this-polenta and sausages-two of my favorites!

Chef Chuck said...

Job well done! It seems when it is done in the traditional way it taste even better! Happy New Year!

MamaJo said...

Brava Valeria!!

The polenta was wonderful; so was the company.


Valerie said...

Janie - Give it a try, it's great for a casual party!

Chuck - Thanks. You're right; it just wouldn't taste the same if eaten off plates. Happy New Year to you!

MamaJo - Glad you enjoyed it. We loved sharing it with you.

Simona said...

Photos that bring up memories. Thanks for sharing. Happy New Year!

YankeeSoaper said...

This looks so good! And the photos--fabulous! I love polenta but need to work a bit more at getting the texture just right.