Polenta with Italian Sausage and Fresh Mozzarella

Circle B Kitchen

Recipe adapted from La Cucina Italiana

Serves 6-8

Polenta may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn't. It just takes a little time and some stirring now and then. I've altered the original recipe to add a little more flavor to the polenta (a little milk and parmesan cheese). And although I didn't change it in the recipe below, I'm not really a big fan of sliced chunks of link sausage in dishes like this, so might I suggest that you remove the sausage from the casings and pinch off 1/2-inch bits, dropping them directly into the sauce to cook. These turn out like little sausage meatballs and are much more tender without the sausage casings. And feel free to use spicy Italian sausage if you prefer. And you can certainly simplify this recipe by substiuting any good quality marinara sauce you might have on hand, and even adding some crushed red pepper if you like. And if you're pressed for time, each part of this can be made ahead of time (like days ahead), refrigerated and then assembled and baked when you're ready to serve it. Awesome!

4 cups of water

1/2 cup milk

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Fine sea salt

1 1/2 cups coarse polenta

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 (14-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice (preferably San Marzano)

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

3/4 pound Italian sausage (bulk or links)

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme

grated parmesan cheese for serving

4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

freshly ground black pepper

Spray a 10-inch cake pan or springform with cooking spray (I like to line the bottom with parchment paper too)

In a large saucepan, combine the water, milk, 2 tablespoons oil, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Cook and stir for 20 to 30 minutes or until the polenta is thickened and tender. Stir in the grated parmesan cheese, taste for salt, remove and discard the bay leaves.

Transfer the polenta to prepared pan, spreading evenly with a rubber spatula. Let the polenta cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

Run the tomatoes through a blender (hand blender), or food processor until fairly smooth. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, wine, whole sausages, thyme and 1 teaspoon salt.

Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove sausage from sauce and cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds.

Turn out the polenta onto prepared baking sheet. Top with sauce, spreading sauce to 1/2 inch from edges of polenta. Sprinkle the top with grated parmesan cheese. Arrange sausage and mozzarella cheese on top. Bake until cheese is melted and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Serve warm, with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of pepper.