Polenta: A Winter Supper

A winter supper: polenta with tomato sauce and Italian sausage.

The charming town of Petaluma is surrounded by the history of Italian ancestors – farmers and ranchers who raised the food that fueled the growth of San Francisco and the North Bay in the late 1900s. Third and fourth generation growers and ranchers continue this tradition today, and many have been able to sustain their heritage through the community actions of MALT and the Sonoma Land Trust. This recipe makes me think of their history, and it is a favorite dish. It’s simple, and yummy. My two requisites.


6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups polenta
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
Shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)

Add salt to water in medium pot and bring to a low boil. Slowly stir in polenta, turn heat down to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring frequently. The polenta should bubble gently – you don’t want the bottom to burn. You can’t over stir this recipe, so relax, listen to some music and in the meantime brown the sausages.

After the polenta has finished cooking through, stir in the butter (optional, but very good). Top with shredded Parmesan when you serve this creamy dish – I often serve it with goat cheese crumbled or Chèvre spread on top. You can also serve the polenta with tomato-basil-garlic sauce, or your favorite pasta sauce. I like to serve Polenta with Italian sausage. (See recipes below.)

You have a choice of how to serve the polenta: Creamy or browned. I usually serve it creamy and then place what is left over in a bowl or storage container and place it in the ‘fridge. I take it out later, cut it when it’s cold, and brown it in olive oil as a delicious “left-over.”

Italian Sausage

Buy your favorite Italian sausage – Mild or Hot. These are uncooked sausages, therefore you need to properly heat them through as you cook them and brown them. To serve 4, place 4 sausages in a deep sauté pan with a lid with ¼ to ½ cup of water. Poke each sausage, 2 to 3 times, with a knife. At medium-high heat, bring the sausages and water to a good simmer, then lower to low-medium heat and cover for 10 minutes. Add water if needed as the sausages cook through. Take the lid off and brown both sides on medium heat.

Tomato-Garlic-Basil Sauce

This quick sauce goes with almost anything!

1 small can stewed tomatoes
1 large garlic clove, crushed and finely minced
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried Basil

In a small saucepan, sauté the garlic in olive oil until just golden. Add stewed tomatoes with juice and crush tomatoes with a “potato masher” in the pan. Simmer 5 minutes. Add dried Basil and simmer 5 minutes. Voila . . . it’s ready.


Passion Pecan Cookies

Passion Pecan Cookies

Passion Pecan Cookies with My Nepenthe cookbook opened in the background.

These melt-in-your-mouth cookies are slightly adapted from a recipe out of a favorite cookbook: My Nepenthe ~ Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur. For those of us who love pecan pie, this cookie is a kindred spirit. The original recipe uses coconut, and is titled Passion Cookies in the book. The author, Romney Steele, explains that Richard Burton often requested these cookies during his visits to Nepenthe’s gorgeous restaurant on the coast of Big Sur.

The triple layers in these cookies make it fun to create, and they are easy to serve as a “finger food’ dessert. They are SO GOOD – you truly have to make them to find out! Hmmm . . . I think it’s time to make a second batch.


1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups packed brown sugar
3 eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups chopped pecans

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
About 20 pecan halves (optional)


Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Use the paddle attachment in an electric mixer (or mix with a wooden spoon in a large mixing bowl) and beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Stir in the flour slowly just until fully combined and it looks like coarse corn meal. Pour into greased pan and press firmly and evenly. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden. Rinse out mixing bowl for the next step.

For the filling, use the paddle attachment* to cream the brown sugar and eggs. Add the vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the flour with the baking soda then add it to the sugar and egg mixture until just combined. Slowly mix in the pecans. Pour the filling over the still-warm crust and spread evenly. Return to the oven for 20 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack.

For the icing, place the butter in the mixing bowl and sift the powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar) into it. Mix well with paddle attachment and add vanilla. Mix until smooth. Use a little milk or half-and-half to thin if needed – but just a little! The icing needs to be soft enough to spread, but not so soft that it droops and won’t set. Spread over the cookies and cut into small squares. Top each cookie with a pecan half.

*A wooden spoon and large mixing bowl works just as well.

Photo taken by grimmts and featured on IgoUgo.