This is one of our favourite comfort foods, and I always seem to make it when I have to use one or more of the ingredients up...in this case it was the last can of tomatoes, some cooked Italian sausages and some mozzarella.
The reasons why I love this meal are many...it's easy to make and can be done ahead, it's quite adaptable to the ingredients you have on hand and it's a very satisfying meal.
Start off by lightly greasing a 9" X 13" ovenproof dish, and turning the oven on to pre-heat to 350F.
Make the polenta first. In a medium sized saucepan with a heavy bottom, heat:
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
When the milk is hot, slowly whisk in:
1 cup cornmeal
Continue to cook on a low heat, whisking often to avoid sticking, and to stop lumps from forming as the cornmeal starts to expand and thicken.
When the polenta starts to thicken and the whisk leaves trails it is halfway there. Time to switch to a rubber spatula and lower the heat as low as possible.
When the polenta is starting to become difficult to stir, and starts to leave the sides of the pan, turn off the heat.
Immediately stir in:
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Scrape the hot polenta into the prepared dish and spread as evenly as possible, using the rubber spatula. Set aside.
Sprinkle the cooked sausage evenly over the polenta.
In a small bowl, combine:
1 x 28 oz can plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
Spread the tomato mixture over the sausages, as evenly as possible.
Sprinkle grated mozzarella over everything, and place into the oven to bake.
Bake until the polenta, sausage and tomatoes are heated through, and the cheese is melted, bubbling and golden, about 30 minutes. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes before portioning.
- The recipe can be doubled if needed; this serves 4 - 6 people.
- As I mentioned earlier, it can be assembled ahead of time, up to 2 days ahead, and kept well wrapped in the refrigerator.
- When making polenta, make sure you use cornmeal that is not finely ground...use medium or coarse ground. For the best results, use cornmeal that is specifically labelled 'polenta' as this type and grind of cornmeal are specifcally meant for making polenta. That being said, I have always used medium ground cornmeal and had good results.
- I like to use milk, as it adds richness to the polenta, but feel free to use water or stock, or a combination of any of these.
- Butter can be used instead of olive oil. If you really want to add extra flavour to your polenta, add a few drops of truffle oil at the end of the cooking.
- Chopped fresh herbs, dried chili flakes, ground black pepper or any type of cheese can be mixed into the polenta before spreading it into the prepared dish.
- If I have an excess of fresh tomatoes, or very ripe tomatoes, I peel, seed and chop them and use them instead of canned tomatoes. Diced sundried tomatoes, or roasted cherry tomatoes can also be added to the tomato mixture.
- Fresh basil is a better choice than dried for this recipe, but I had none. It adds a lovely bright flavour, so if you are able to, use fresh. You will need about 1/4 cup chopped. Basil Pesto can also be used.
- Basic Tomato Sauce can be used in place of the chopped tomato mixture.
- I had some cooked Italian sausage, that had been removed from the skin and crumbled. If you are cooking sausages, you will need about 4. Other meats can be used...leftover pork, chicken or beef that has been diced; leftover stew; meat sauce from pasta; meatballs that have been sliced.
- Add more vegetables if you like...grilled zucchini, eggplant, peppers; roasted garlic or red pepper; chopped cooked spinach; cooked sliced mushrooms (especially if you have added truffle oil).
- Use grated asiago, fontina or mozzarella; sliced bocconcini; crumbled goat cheese or blue cheese.
- The polenta can be made in individual dishes, as an entree, or as a side dish.