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Table of Polenta

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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 1 hr 30 min
  • Prep: 40 min
  • Inactive: 15 min
  • Cook: 35 min
  • Yield: 12 to 14 servings
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4 cups heavy cream

Pinch of sea salt, preferably gray salt

7 cups fine-ground polenta

2 cups shredded fontina cheese

2 cups freshly grated Parmesan

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Basil Pesto Sauce, recipe follows

Bolognese Sauce, recipe follows

Sausage and Peppers, recipe follows

Basil Pesto: 

2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves

1/3 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

Pinch of powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C), optional

Sea salt, preferably gray salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Quick Bolognese Sauce: 

4 to 6 dried porcini mushrooms

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces ground veal (1 cup)

4 ounces ground pork (1/2 cup)

Sea salt, preferably gray salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1/3 cup white wine

3/4 cup veal stock (or quality chicken stock)

1/4 cup marinara sauce or tomato puree

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Sausages and Peppers: 

8 Italian sausages

2 pints cherry tomatoes

6 yellow peppers

6 yellow onions

4 serrano chile peppers or jalepeno peppers

10 garlic cloves

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 cup Olive Oil

Gray salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup freshly chopped basil leaves


  1. In a large, heavy saucepan, combine 6 cups cold water, the cream and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to medium. Gradually whisk in the polenta in a slow, steady stream. 
  2. Whisk until the liquid boils again and the grains are suspended in the liquid. Keep whisking so the polenta doesn't scorch. Once it comes to a simmer, switch to a wooden spoon and stir every few minutes until the polenta is creamy without any hint of grittiness, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the fontina, Parmesan and nutmeg. 
  3. Line a table with butcher paper and pour the polenta onto the table, down the center. Serve with Basil Pesto Sauce and Bolognese Sauce. (These sauces also go great with pasta.)

Basil Pesto: 

  1. Prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl, and bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put the basil in a large sieve and plunge it into the boiling water. Immediately immerse all the basil and stir so that it blanches evenly. Blanch for about 15 seconds. Remove, shake off the excess water, then plunge the basil into the ice water bath and stir again so it cools as fast as possible. Drain well. 
  2. Squeeze the water out of the basil with your hands until very dry. Roughly chop the basil and put in a blender. Add the olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, vitamin C if using and salt and pepper to taste. Blend for at least 30 seconds. In this way, the green of the basil will thoroughly color the oil. Add the cheese and pulse to combine. The pesto will keep several days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Quick Bolognese Sauce: 

  1. Soak the mushrooms: Place the porcini in warm water and soak for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid, and then chop the porcini. 
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the veal and pork, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Cook 2 minutes, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
  3. Add the onions and cook gently to "sweat," about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook until the garlic is lightly browned, about a minute. 
  4. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 4 minutes to caramelize the meat. Add the wine and 2 tablespoons porcini juice. Cook for 1 minute to evaporate. Add the remaining stock, the tomato puree and parsley and cook for 2 minutes. Garnish with the cheese.

Sausages and Peppers: 

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. 
  2. Fill a medium pot halfway with cold water and add sausages. Bring to a boil and shut off the flame. Let sausages sit in water until water has cooled to room temperature. Remove sausages from water and reserve until ready to grill. 
  3. Halve the cherry tomatoes. Seed and slice the peppers into julienne, peel and slice the onions, soup style. Thinly slice the serrano peppers, and the garlic cloves. In a large mixing bowl toss all of the vegetables together with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour the mix onto a large oven tray and bake for about 1 hour stirring occasionally so that it cooks evenly. Remove from oven when vegetables are fully cooked and lightly browned. Let cool slightly and stir in chopped basil.
  4. Grill the poached sausages over a medium-high heat until nicely caramelized.

Cook’s Note

If your pesto typically turns army green shortly after you make it, you'll appreciate the beauty of this version. I blanch the basil briefly to set the color, and I add a pinch of powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which keeps the pesto from oxidizing. I use pure olive oil for pesto so the clear flavor of the herb dominates. If you want to freeze the pesto, omit the nuts and cheese.

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