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Author Notes: This may look like a lot of work, but when broken down into tasks over a day or two or three, it’s not so bad. I usually cook the polenta while making dinner, and then pop it into the fridge overnight. The vegetables and fruit can be roasted separately and set aside for a few days. The cheese can be grated a few days in advance, when you find a small pocket of time. Once you pull it all together, I’m fairly confident that you will decide that the effort was well worth it - especially if serving a crowd that includes people who require gluten-free dishes. And if this looks a bit like stuffing, well, you’re right. This actually *is* my favorite stuffing. I make twice what we need for Thanksgiving and tightly cover in a glass container half of the base ingredients, and then put it in the back of the fridge for Saturday or Sunday morning. I heat the oven, beat the eggs and milk together, layer it as directed, and bake it for brunch. By then, all of the stuffing from Thursday is long gone, and the tribe is happy to see it again, formatted as breakfast. I do hope you like this. ;o)
Serves 6 - 8
- 1 cup / 563 grams / 5.75 ounces regular polenta (coarse cornmeal)
- 1/4 cup / 60 ml chopped fresh herbs: I prefer either rosemary + sage + thyme, or thyme + marjoram; use whatever you like
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper for grinding
- Oil for greasing the baking sheets
- 1 cup / 240 ml coarsely chopped celeriac or regular celery
- 1 medium fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
- 3 tart medium sized apples, cored and coarsely chopped (don’t peel) - or pears or a combination
- 3 large shallot lobes or one medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3/4 pound / 342 grams Italian sausage (I prefer pre-cooked; but uncooked is also fine)
- 1/4 cup / 60 ml coarsely chopped Italian parsley
- Butter for greasing the baking dish
- 1/4 cup / 1.5 ounces / 43 grams grated parmesan
- 1 cup / 2.5 ounces / 72 grams grated Gruyere, Asiago, or Emmentaler + Cheddar (total)
- 5 eggs
- 2.5 cups / 24 ounces / 685 grams milk
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- Make the polenta: Put 2 tablespoons of chopped herbs in 3 1/2 cups of water in the top part of a double boiler, over boiling water, if you have one. If not, use a heavy saucepan, and be prepared to stir a bit more. Stir in a couple healthy pinches of salt and heat until the water is too hot to touch. Sprinkle in the polenta, stirring all the while. Once you’ve added it all, continue to stir for about a minute, to ensure there are no lumps. If using a double boiler, let it cook for about 25 more minutes, stirring ever 10 minutes of so. Otherwise, stir every 3 - 4 minutes, and keep the temperature under the saucepan very low.
- When the polenta is nice and thick, cover tightly and let sit for about 30 minutes. This plumps it up, improving both texture and flavor. Thoroughly butter an 8” x 8” baking pan. Tip the polenta into the pan, smooth it out level, cover tightly with cling wrap, and put it into the refrigerator to cool for at least 3 hours or, preferably, overnight.
- When you are ready to bake the polenta cubes, heat your oven to 400 degrees and put a large baking sheet in to preheat, for roasting the vegetables. Generously oil a second baking sheet. Flip the chilled polenta over onto the baking sheet. (I usually hold the sheet tight over the pan and then flip them over together.) Cut it into 64 1” pieces; pull them gently apart, and put the baking sheet on the bottom shelf of the oven (even if it hasn’t reached 400 degrees).
- Prep the vegetables and the fruit — don’t include any pear at this point, if using, and hold back one apple—toss them in a tablespoon or two of oil with salt and pepper and when the oven is fully heated, throw them on the hot baking sheet. They’ll sizzle!
- Let the polenta cubes roast for 20 minutes. Remove and let sit on the pan, without touching them, for about 15 minutes. This makes it easier to flip them over.
- After removing the polenta, stir the vegetables on the roasting pan. and return to the oven for 3 or 4 more minutes. Remove from the oven and tip into a large bowl. Toss them with the remaining fresh herbs, including the chopped parsley. Add the third apple and/or the pears, if using, and toss again.
- Once the polenta has cooled a bit, flip the cubes over and return the pan to the oven for another 20 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut the sausage into small cubes if pre-cooked, or remove from casings and pull apart into bite-sized chunks. Saute in a skillet over medium until lightly brown and somewhat crispy. Toss with the vegetables and herbs.
- Gently toss the polenta cubes with the roasted vegetables and herbs. (At this point, you can stop and put everything into the fridge, well covered, for up to three days.)
- Beat the eggs; add the milk to it, along with another pinch of salt and 10 - 12 grindings of black pepper. Generously butter a large baking dish. Keep in mind that a shallow one will give you more acreage for crunchy topping.
- Tip half into the baking dish. Scatter half of the grated cheese on it. Top with the remaining polenta and vegetables. Sprinkle on the nutmeg. Pour over the milk and eggs. End with the remaining grated cheese. Bake for 50 - 55 minutes, covering with aluminum foil starting at about 30 minutes; remove the foil at about 45 minutes to let the top brown nicely. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
- i hope you enjoy this. ;o)
- Make this vegetarian by omitting the sausage and roast some mushrooms with the vegetables. Do this on a rimmed sheet pan and save all of the juices that are released, to add into the mix with the polenta.
- To convert this to stuffing, use only half the cheese, which you'll use only on the very top. Substitute 2 cups of rich turkey stock for the milk and beat in just one egg. Pour it over the other ingredients, top with the grated cheese, and proceed. ;o)
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Festive, Crowd-Feeding Breakfast