I know what you’re thinking. You’re reading the title of this post and thinking to yourself, “another polenta recipe?! Jeez Jackie, we get it, you’re obsessed with polenta, move on with your life already,” and you’re not wrong, yes, I am obsessed with it but I’ve got a new obsession: drowning cooked polenta in layers of tomato sauce, smothering it with cheese and baking it in the oven. This, I’ve recently learned, is known as pasticciata and is a kind of lasagne with polenta instead of pasta. Oh yeah. This stuff is good.
Even better this is the last post in my series on homemade stock (which you’re probably sick of too, by now)! Polenta and homemade stock? That’s what I call perfection.
This polenta was kind of a mistake. When I bought it I had been on autopilot and had added it to my shopping basket without reading the fine print, namely that it was not quick cook. Despite the fact that I am The Polenta Girl (and yes, I would be perfectly happy for you to call me that) I’d never actually cooked any type of polenta that was not quick-cook before and so when I finally decided to make some, I had to relocate all of my work into the kitchen for the following hour and a half so that I could make sure I stirred the pot every ten minutes or so. Even then I had polenta stuck to the bottom of my pan that needed overnight to soak (but happily that then lifted off like a strange floppy disk and not the type that you’d stick into a computer) and I’m sure if I had an Italian grandmother she’d have smacked my hand with a wooden spoon at that point, simultaneously yelling at me for not stirring enough (sorry Imaginary Italian Nonna).
Stone milled polenta, I’ve read, is better than steel milled as it’s coarser and leaves in the flavour of the corn more than other methods. Traditional methods of cooking use a heavily salted pot of water as the base, brought to the boil, followed by a gentle but firm dusting of the polenta over the water whilst whisking, to ensure that there are no lumps and the polenta is evenly dispersed. When all of the polenta has been added then it’s time to stir – preferably with a long-handled wooden spoon to safeguard against its volcanic nature (I’ve been burnt more than once by a bubbling pot of polenta) – and then keep stirring for an hour and a half. At the end of that time you can add a knob of butter and a healthy portion of freshly grated Parmigiano and you’ll have the best polenta ever (I also like to add a dash of cream about 5 mins before the end). Yes, your guns will get a bit of a flex on but my God, the result at the end is so worth it. Besides, you can always think of it as a work-out – just be sure to stir with both hands or face life with one abnormally large arm.
So where do I bastardise this recipe, as I do with all recipes, aside from the obligatory cream? Stock, friends, which, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, I am all about. Instead of using salted water I use 3/4 stock and 1/4 water (to dilute a little, especially if my stock is a little on the salty side) as the base for my polenta and it gives it the most beautiful, delicious, awesome, full and rich flavour. Yup, polenta just got better!
Of course, making some fried polenta triangles this time just wasn’t going to cut it, not with such delicious polenta on hand, so how else to bring out the flavour and texture of polenta but by baking it in layers of tomato sauce and cheese? Perfection. In fact, it was so good that I made three different versions of it over two weeks (I may have gotten a little carried away).
The first was simply baked with a tomato and mushroom sauce that I’d reduced down over a medium-low heat until thick and gloopy, then topped with a large handful of freshly grated Parmigiano; the second I added some pork and apple sausages that I’d fried and sliced medium-thin on the diagonal, which were beautifully sweet and delicious, then topped with fresh mozzarella rounds and freshly grated Parmigiano; and for the third I made my rich and delicious awesome 12-hour bolognese (usually 24-hour but I was short on time; recipe to come soon) and layered that with the polenta, then topped with fresh mozzarella rounds and freshly grated Parmigiano. For the last version I made a portion for our dinner and also a portion for Danny from Food Urchin‘s pet side project Where’s My Pork Chop?, designed to meet other bloggers and be fed in the process (in exchange for something, of course; there’s no such thing as a free meal, after all). You can see what else I made him in his blog post – all Italian themed – and how he thought I was “sassy” and “cool” (words that have never been used about me before!). All of the recipes for Danny’s swop will be published soon.
Lucky that this already has a name or I would’ve resorted to calling it “awesome polenta layer thingy” but delicious it is and a firm staple in my cuisine it has now become. Perhaps I should’ve waited for colder weather to make it, as it is very filling and best served piping hot, not really ideal for the current heat wave London is experiencing (and we’re already in October! This is unheard of! Really any time that it’s not raining is unheard of, though…) but I just couldn’t help myself; one bite and I simply had to eat the entire thing and then make some more…
As I’m sure you can see, my polenta obsession lives on. I’ll probably find a million more ways to use it but this may be my favourite thus far. What are you waiting for? Go get some polenta and get stirring.
SWEET SAUSAGE PASTICCIATA
For the polenta:
1L stock (see my slow cooker chicken stock recipe; you could also use vegetable stock (recipe coming soon))
220 g polenta (stone milled; non-quick cook)
Dash of cream
25 g butter
Large handful freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the pasticciata:
6 pork and apple sausages
1 tbsp vegetable oil
x2 (390 g) cartons chopped tomatoes OR about 600 g fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
250 g mushrooms, sliced thinly
90 g unsalted butter, divided
125 g fresh mozzarella
Large handful freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A medium-large casserole dish
1. Cook the polenta: in a large pot over a medium-high heat bring the stock to the boil and gently but firmly dust in the polenta in a steady stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. When you cannot whisk anymore, switch to a long-handled wooden spoon, turn the heat down to low and stir frequently (about every 10 mins or so) for roughly 90 mins.
2. In the last 10 mins, add the cream and stir through. Just before taking off the heat, stir through the butter and Parmigiano, season to taste, then remove from the heat and pour onto a flat baking tray immediately. Spread evenly with a spatula and set aside to cool. When cool cut into rectangular strips (can be done the day before cooking the pasticciata and stored in an airtight box in the fridge).
3. Make the pasticciata: pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.
4. Separate and slash the sausages with a sharp knife then fry in the vegetable oil in a large frying pan until browned and cooked through. Remove from the heat, let rest for a few mins, then slice into medium-thin slices on the diagonal when cool enough to handle. Set aside.
5. In a medium saucepan over a medium heat fry off the onions in a little vegetable oil until soft, add the garlic and mushrooms and fry until fragrant and the mushrooms pliable, then add the chopped tomatoes. Turn the heat down to low and let cook down, stirring occasionally, until the tomato mixture has thickened and reduced by about a quarter (around 20 mins). Season to taste, remove from the heat and set aside.
NOTE: If using fresh tomatoes this will take a little longer than chopped tomatoes so plan accordingly.
6. Assemble the pasticciata: butter the casserole dish and place about 3-4 tbsps of the tomato sauce on the bottom, then layer with sausages and place cooled polenta rectangles on top. Dust with a little Parmigiano then repeat, starting with the tomato sauce. The final layer should be polenta. Dot the butter over the top of the polenta, then place mozzarella rounds on top and smother with the remaining Parmigiano.
7. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 mins, or until the cheese has melted and is golden and bubbling. Serve immediately with a green salad and some Italian lemonade – be careful not to burn your mouth! Enjoy.
So there we go, the last stock post! If you have any stock left by now I applaud you, I’m sure you’ll find a way to use it up and if you haven’t? Well it’s time to get back into the kitchen and make some more.
Until next time, peace and love.