I have been traveling quite a bit these last few weeks and am pretty exhausted. Seattle last week, Chicago this past weekend, and am heading out to Boston early tomorrow morning. With a mountain of laundry to tackle, I did not want to have to leave my house today. The fridge was fairly empty (for me anyway) but I really wanted to cook something hearty but did not want to have to go to the grocery store (mainly because I wanted to stay in my pajamas all day). This is when it is quite handy to have a well stocked pantry and freezer. I opened up the pantry and saw some lovely polenta and imported Italian canned tomatoes calling my name. I didn’t have any fresh milk so I was excited to see a couple of cans of evaporated milk (great substitute for fresh milk in cooked dishes). I peeked in the freezer and found a pound of spicy ground Italian chicken sausage from my local farmers market. In addition, I always have lots of red wine, half and half, Parmesan cheese, garlic, onions, and carrots. So when I saw what I had in my freezer and pantry I thought a nice sugo sauce with creamy polenta was in order. It was phenomenal. You must try this if you get a chance. Fantastic northern Italian comfort food – Mangia! Mangia!
Sugo Sauce (serves 8)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb ground spicy Italian sausage (Note: I use chicken or turkey)
1 medium Vidalia onion, chopped.
2 carrots, medium diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
1 – 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes (I like using imported canned Italian tomatoes – more flavor)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine (Note: If you don’t have red wine, use white wine. If you don’t have wine at all, use chicken or vegetable stock. If you don’t have stock, damn you are hurting. You can use water but the flavor will not be nearly as tasty).
1/4 cup cream sherry (Note: Cream sherry is a sweet dessert wine. It is not expensive and will keep for a long time. You can find it at most grocery stores. If you can’t find it or don’t want to buy any you can add and extra ¼ cup wine)
Heat a large saucepan on medium heat and then add the olive oil, sausage, and onion. Cook until the sausage is cooked through. Add the garlic, and spices. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, and sherry. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 40 minutes. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
Creamy Polenta (serves 4)
2 – cans of evaporated milk (Note: Don’t use fat free milk, 2% is fine. If you don’t have evaporated milk you can use 3 cups of fresh milk)
1 cup polenta (you can sub yellow cornmeal if you can’t find polenta)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup half-and-half (Note: use water if you don’t have half-and-half)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, bring the milk, butter, and salt to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta – keep whisking for a few minutes to prevent lumps from forming. Whisk constantly for 3 to 4 minutes to prevent lumps and then cover and simmer for 25 minutes (stir occasionally). After the polenta is thick and creamy, take off the heat and then stir in the half-and-half and the Parmesan cheese. If the polenta is too thick you can thin with water. Check to make sure the seasoning is right, and add more a touch salt if necessary.
Place a heaping large serving spoonful of polenta on a plate or bowl. Top with 1 cup (more or less) of the sugo sauce. Serve with a leafy green salad to round out the meal.
Tip: If you do not use the polenta right away, spread remaining polenta in a small square container and place in the fridge. The polenta will get firm. After the polenta gets firm, you can cut it into squares or circles and fry them in a little olive oil and top with any leftover sauce.