Cold and snowy weather makes me want warm and filling food. Polenta certainly fits the bill, although I must say, I rarely make it. Case in point – the never-before-tried recipe I grabbed while dashing out my apartment door to catch the train came from an issue of Food and Wine – from 1997! But no matter, it’s never too late to start, so along with some sweet Italian sausage from where else but Flying Pigs Farm and polenta from Wild Hive Farm, I decided to give it a whirl (or should I say a whisk?).
Sausage and Broccoli Rabe with Polenta
Adapted from Food and Wine November 1997
There has been a resurgence of freshly milled, locally grown grains coming on to the market in the last several years. Gristmills, once the center of every prosperous town, were abandoned with the advent of electric machinery and by the end of the 1800’s mostly obsolete. Not only are traditional mills a part of our rural heritage and supportive of local economies, they also produce more dimensional, nutritious, and full-bodied flours and stone-ground grains than those from modern mills.
It should be mentioned along with the benefits of local grains also comes the quirks. Just as a pastured cow will produce milk that tastes different depending on the time of year and type of grass she is eating, grains are affected by the soil and weather conditions of a particular farm. Most of us are used to flours milled for uniformity; using local grains and flours takes a willingness to experiment with variations in gluten content, flavor, and shelf life, among other things. That said, the Hudson Valley polenta I used in this recipe behaved just fine - no surprises, no quirks.
Wild Hive Farm is located in Clinton Corners, NY and mills grains grown organically on Lightening Tree Farm in nearby Millbrook. Along with their Farm Store, Wild Hive products are sold throughout Dutchess and Ulster Counties, as well as the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan, where I bought my polenta.
The original recipe called for the polenta to be made with water, salt and a little olive oil, nothing else. While that will certainly work, I wanted something a bit richer and creamier so I added freshly grated Parmesan and a few tablespoons of butter. After all, what’s the harm in a little cheese and butter? Especially if you get up the next morning, pull on a pair of boots, and venture out into the cold for a nice, long walk in the snow.
4-½ cups water to start, more as needed at the end
1 1/3 cups coarse cornmeal
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound broccoli rabe, tough stems removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/3 pounds hot or sweet Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup dry white wine
One 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes in thick puree
1 ½ cans chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a medium saucepan, combine the water and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal in a slow steady stream and continue to whisk until the polenta is suspended in the water and no longer sits on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is thickened, about 1 hour. Keep warm until ready to serve. The polenta should be soft and creamy; if it gets too thick, stir in some water.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the broccoli rabe until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, then rinse in cold water and drain again thoroughly. Cut into 2-inch pieces and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the sausage and cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through, about 12 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate and let cool slightly. Slice the sausage into ½ inch thick rounds.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the wine and bring to a simmer. Stir in the sausage slices, tomatoes, stock, thyme and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe, parsley and pepper and return to a simmer.
Stir the Parmesan and butter into the polenta. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon the polenta onto dinner plates and top with the sausage and broccoli rabe ragout. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan if desired.