Parmesan Polenta Cakes with Sausage and Peppers

I've never been a big polenta fan, simply because my Pop-Pop Gino would always say how terrible it was while we were growing up.  He would tell us, "listen to how it's said - poollleeenta - it just sounds bad!"  As I continued on cooking throughout the years, obviously I learned to make my own assessments on lots of stuff - polenta being one of them.  Granted, I'm still not a fan of polenta when it's prepared like grits, but loaded with butter and cheese and then fried up until crispy golden brown?  I'll take it!  (And I bet he would have loved it if I got to make it for him like this.) My favorite way to eat it this way is with a really delicious mushroom duxelle on top (another recipe for another day), but this sausage and peppers version is perfect for a weeknight family meal, because it serves quite a few people.  The directions below look complicated, but if you just read through a couple times and set yourself up well with preparation, you'll find it's not that hard at all.

For the Polenta:
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 2 cups polenta (corn meal)
  • 1 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt, pepper, fresh parsley
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, for dusting

For the Sausage and Peppers:
  • 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 green bell peppers, sliced
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced
  • 2/3 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup prepared marinara sauce
  • 5 large basil leaves, chiffonade

Make the polenta:

In a medium-sized pot, bring vegetable stock to a boil.  Pour in polenta and whisk until incorporated with the stock.  Add heavy cream and let simmer for about 20 minutes, continuously stirring to keep from burning or sticking.  Remove the polenta from the heat and using a wooden spoon, fold in Parmesan cheese and butter until mixed through.

Temper your eggs:  Whisk eggs together in a small bowl, and slowly spoon in hot polenta about a tablespoon at a time, about 2-3 tablespoons.  You are doing this so when you pour your eggs into the polenta, they don't scramble by hitting the hot pot.

Whisk tempered eggs into polenta pot and add salt, pepper, and parsley to taste.  Grease (generously) a half-sheet pan or baking sheet.  Pour polenta mixture on baking sheet, spread into a thick layer, and chill for at least 2 hours, until polenta is very firm.

Make the sausage and peppers:

Brown sausage links in a 400-degree oven until the inside is no longer pink and the juices run clear, about 30 minutes.  Turn the oven on broil (high), and finish cooking about 5-8 more minutes, turning often to brown all sides of the links.  You could also grill the sausage on a grill or cook it in a pan - but the broil method gets the best crisp skin on the sausage.  Slice cooked sausage links into "coins", on an angle.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add celery, garlic, onions, and peppers and saute until soft, about 20 minutes.  Deglaze your pan with red wine, and reduce by half.  Add marinara sauce and cooked sausage coins and stir all ingredients well to incorporate.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Finish with beautiful basil leaves.

Finish the cakes, assemble the dish:

Using a round or triangular cookie cutter, or simply using a small paring knife, cut the polenta cakes to your desired size and shape.  I used a knife to cut mine into large triangles.  Coat polenta cakes in flour and fry in a 350-degree deep fryer until golden brown.  Arrange on a large platter.  Spoon the saucy sausage and peppers on top the polenta cakes - you can either spoon it onto them individually and make it a pretty single serving each, or you can go rustic and just pour it all around, covering the cakes with the sausage.  Finish with more chiffonade basil, a little extra Parmesan cheese, and serve!


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