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November 29, 2007 / Tony

Sausage and Mushroom Ragout over Fontina Polenta

There are times in a life where an experience is of such exceptional quality that it gives one a glimpse of real, eternal beauty.  The experience confirms the lurking suspicions that there is something greater out there and that somehow that greater thing cares enough about us to let us have such pleasure.  I think it was Ben Franklin who said, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  That’s about right, I think.  But I might say it this way: “Well-made polenta is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” 

I was inspired to make polenta while I was reading Bill Buford’s book, Heat.  The book chronicles his adventures in Mario Batali’s Babbo kitchen and other various travels.  In the middle of the book, he writes about polenta.  In describing his first real bowl of polenta, he says, “I’d been utterly unprepared for the real thing. . .The chef had bought her cornmeal from an artisinal miller in Piemonte, and the polenta she made was a revelation-each grain swollen from the slow simmering and yet still rough, even gravelly, against the roof of my mouth. . . These crunchy stone-ground corn grains tasted only of themselves; an intesne, sweet, highly extracted cornness.”  I can’t say if the polenta I made last night was close to the polenta Mr. Buford had but I can say it tasted pretty darn good.  I especially loved the fact that while creamy, the polenta retained a pleasant scratchiness.  And then I added fontina cheese into the mix.  The result was a creamier and more intensely flavored dish.  The fontina was mild enough to complement the polenta yet strong enough to assert itself.  Here’s what I did:

Sausage and Mushroom Ragout over Fontina Polenta

For the polenta

1 cup polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal)

5 cups low sodium chicken broth (or preferably, homemade chicken stock)

1 garlic clove, smashed

4 oz Fontina cheese, shredded

In a saucepan, heat up about 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth with the smashed garlic clove to a boil.  Heat the rest of the chicken broth in a separate saucepan until it comes to a simmer.  When the first saucepan is boiling, slowly add the polenta while whisking constantly.  When all of the polenta is incorporated, take a look at your mixture and see if you need to add anymore chicken broth.  The mixture right now should be fairly wet.  Drop the heat to low and slowly simmer the mixture for about an hour longer, adding more chicken broth as needed and whisking occassionally.  There should be a point where the polenta releases all of its starch.  You should be able to smell this.  The polenta is done when the mixture is creamy and smooth, except for a pleasant raspiness on the tongue.  Take the mixture off the heat and stir in the Fontina cheese.  Taste and adjust any seasoning.  Serve. 

For the sausage and mushroom ragout

1 pound hot Italian sausage

1/2 pound sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup dry red wine

2 cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade 

In a saute pan, brown sausage.  Remove from the pan and reserve.  Depending on the amount of fat in the pan, you may need to add a bit of olive oil.  Then add the sliced mushrooms.  Saute until just cooked through.  Add the red wine and deglaze, scraping up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the wine to a syrup-like consistency and then add the sausage and the marinara sauce.  Heat the mixture to a simmer and let it cook for about 5 minutes.  Serve over the polenta. 

This is the end result:

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. jessies / Dec 1 2007 12:03 am

    I am going to have to try this recipe! Looks fabulous!

  2. Elizabeth / May 15 2011 5:06 am

    I have been trying to make polenta beautifully for about 10 years, and this page was the first recipe I have read that told me to smell the food I was cooking. You are so right. Regardless of where you buy your cornmeal from (I am in Australia and buy it at the supermarket) I think its the fact that you need to smell the starches being released – and you really can after about an hour for coarse cornmeal, because when I followed these instructions, my polenta was mouth watering… thanks! I have always loved polenta – its soul food at its best, and now you have taught me how to make others love it at well 🙂

  3. Caroline / May 29 2013 9:25 am

    Hi there! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 4! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the superb work!

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