Less 80s, more eaties
Our fave local Italian spot has a spectacular creamy, soft polenta with a light (OK, light-ish) sausage & mushroom ragu. What was killing me was not being able to figure out that little, subtle tangy je ne sais quoi but, after much cogitatin' I have
Now, I'm adamant that in this context the polenta must be served bubblingly hot. Otherwise it firms up as the gelatinized starch cells congeal [insert Alton Brown-ish explanation here] and while that is lovely, it's wrong for this thing here. Therefore, cook it last, but if you insist, you can reheat it with some additional dairy...but it won't be quite as nice.
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, Asiago or Pecorino Romano
2 c. chicken stock (NO bouillion, and if you must used store-bought, try the aseptic-packed low-sodium kind)
1 c. creme fraiche (you could use sour half & half -- sometimes, perplexingly, called lowfat sour cream)
1 c. whole milk (2% will be okay)
1 c. polenta (I like coarse ground in this application)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
¼ lb cremini mushrooms (button mushrooms are OK)
¾ lb hot or sweet Italian sausage, in whatever combination you prefer...I like ½ lb hot & ¼ lb sweet, but you do whatev.
Put a thin film of EVOO in a large non-stick skillet and heat over med. high heat until smimmering (but not, DUH, smoking) and then brown sausages. Try to roll them around and brown as much of the exterior as your patience will permit, the more browning, the better. Throw in a ¼ c. of water and let the sausages cook through and the water evaporates...figure 8-10 minutes.
Fish out the sausage and when cool enough to handle, slice 'em diagonally. (Presentation, people!)
Take the creminis, and if you want a slightly posher look, cut the stem flush and then slice in half. Mince one clove of garlic finely. Strip the needles from one index finger-length rosemary sprig and mince finely. (Rosemary can overpower the Hell out of anything, so be careful.)
Take the pan where the sausage cooked, and bring it back up to a med. high heat, and if you have less than 2 T. of drippings left, add a EVOO and/or butter to compensate. When the lipid in question is shimmering, add the mushrooms, one 3-finger pinch of sea salt, a couple of grinds of pepper and 1 t. of the rosemary. Sauté until mushrooms start to exude water +/- 5-6 minutes. Throw in the garlic and continue for another minute.
Add a ladleful (about ¼ c.) of stock and simmer. Cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 3-5 more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Grate up a cup of the cheese. Put your plates to warm (I use my toaster oven on "low") because that will keep your polenta from seizing up.
In a medium saucepan combine 1 cup stock and 1 cup milk and bring to a simmer. Slowly add in the polenta while whisking nonstop. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring all the while. When it looks thickened and cooked add the creme fraiche, 1 T. butter, the cheese and a teeny squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Serve right immediately, if at all possible.
Put the mushrooms and sausage back into the same pan and reheat. Deglaze the pan with a tiny splash of milk. This will also help make a TINY bit of a sauce. Add a tiny splash of lemon juice. Put the polenta on plate and make a little "volcano" then add your sausage and mushrooms on top. Drizzle with a really nice EVOO and serve right away. -J.
* 50-50 of full organic sour cream (lowfat is OK) and full organic yog(h)urt (whichever fat content suits you) mixed and left out, covered, overnight. Sorry, Gina...wherever you are.
All photos courtesy of NOS and birthday-gift camera.