This recipe came about by trying to extend some leftover fried sausage and peppers. Some extra tomato sauce from the fridge helped out the sausage and leftover cornbread made a great quick meal. That idea morphed into an Italian-style shepherds pie, but substituting a rich polenta for cornbread. (I got the idea of browned butter in the polenta from a Serious Eats tamale pie recipe). —Pete
- Makes 1 large casserole
cremini mushrooms (baby bella)
fresh rosemary, chopped
dry red wine
coarsely ground polenta flour
grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese,
ground black pepper
large red bell pepper, julienned
medium sweet onion, quartered and sliced
large cloves garlic, sliced very thinly
Italian Sausage (hot or sweet or combination) (remove casings if purchasing links)
28 oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes; crush tomatoes by hand
shredded mozzarella (or fontina)
- Heat 1 tbsp oil and 2 tbps unsalted butter over medium heat in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add mushrooms, 1 tsp chopped, fresh rosemary and a pinch or two of salt. Stir to coat the mushrooms with the oil. Allow to cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes. Stir and let cook undisturbed for another 5 minutes. They should begin to turn a golden brown by now. Stir in ¼ cup red wine and stir. Allow wine to completely reduce. Stir as needed to keep from burning. Total cooking time will be about 12 – 15 minutes. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl.
- Bring 7 cups water and salt to a boil in a large heavy stockpot. Let it boil for 2 minutes, then remove the pot from heat and While whisking, pour the polenta into the water in a stream until fully incorporated. Return the pot to the stove and bring to low simmer. Continue cooking for about 40 minutes, stirring constantly. Add a little water as needed if stirring becomes difficult. Polenta will be done when it cleanly pulls away from the sides of the pot. Take a spoonful, cool and taste. The grains should be swollen and not taste raw. While polenta is cooking, heat 6 tbsp butter in a sauce pan oven over medium heat until melted. Continue to cook, swirling pan gently until butter is nutty-smelling and solids are a toasty brown. Transfer to a heatproof cup or bowl and reserve. When polenta is done, stir in the browned butter and ¾ cup cheese.
- Preheat oven to 400°F. While the polenta is cooking, Heat 3 tbsp oil In a large frying pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add peppers, onion, and 2/3 of the sliced garlic and fry until beginning to get softened and edges start to brown. Remove the peppers and onion to a bowl. In the same pan, cook the sausage over medium-high heat until barely cooked and retains some pink. Remove and drain the sausage and set aside in a container. Discard any drippings from the pan and wipe the pan clean. Heat 2 tbsp oil until hot. Cook remaining sliced garlic for one minute and add the crushed tomato to the pan with it’s liquid. Add ¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp. pepper, stir and cook for about 10 -15 minutes or until tomatoes have thickened. Stir in the peppers and onion, the mushrooms, the sausage, and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar and continue to cook another 10 minutes or until very thick. Season to with salt and pepper (if needed).
- Place the sausage mixture into a large baking dish. Don’t fill the pan more than halfway up. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the sausage. Top with polenta, spreading it with a spatula to cover surface completely. You can use the spatula to create fancy patterns if you so desire. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Fill additional, smaller baking dishes with any remaining sausage and polenta. Extra dishes can be covered and frozen for later use.
- Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes in 400°F oven or until sides are bubbling and top is beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for at least 20 minutes to allow polenta to set.