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.

Polenta

Ingredients:
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!

Ingredients:
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.

Advertisements

Family Reunion Pasta with Bolognese Sauce

FamilyRenionPhoto
Pasta with Bolognese sauce is a classic Italian meal that is simple to prepare – it just needs plenty of time for the sauce to simmer slowly.  I recommend selecting music that inspires you as you cook it then settle into a good movie as it simmers . . . . . Did I say, slowly? This is apparently the key to a good Bolognese sauce as I discovered in my Italian Classics by Cooks Illustrated.  This recipe is fail proof and yummy, and as they explain in their prologue for Bolognese sauce, it’s “about the meat, with the tomatoes in a supporting role.”  Tomatoes have played a starring role in an earlier blog entry, so this story is about the beef.

Grass fed ground beef and pork

Grass fed ground beef and pork

Since the meat is the focus of this dish, we used local, grass fed beef as the foundation. There are important differences in taste and nutrition when you compare grass fed beef to the much more common grain fed (or corn fed) beef that most Americans eat from cows raised on enormous industrial cattle lots. Carbon foot print issues aside, grass fed beef has far superior flavor and texture, and it is healthier because it is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E and is lower in fat and calories than grain fed beef.

Not many ranchers have the ability or support to raise organic, grass fed beef in California.  An exceptional ranch near us in the spectacular Point Reyes Peninsula is run by the Lunny family – third and fourth generation farmers who have found a way to raise grass fed, organic beef on their historic farm.  While our budget doesn’t allow us to enjoy the treat of their beef often, we plan special meals with them in mind. I interviewed Kevin Lunny, the grandson of the farm’s patriarch, Joseph Lunny, for a museum exhibition on family run farms, Growing the Future. As I listened to his story, my esteem for farmers and ranchers grew ten-fold.  I learned that farmers are not just hard workers, they are problem solvers, looking for solutions to the many challenges of farming such as land stewardship, soil erosion, and energy use. Knowing the people that grow my food has changed the way I think, cook, eat, and vote. Take a few hours for food and fun and visit a local farmers’ market if you haven’t already, and get to know the people who grow our food.

The following Bolognese sauce recipe is simply fabulous, and is straight from Italian Classics. The Berkelly influence comes from the organic ingredients we chose to use from our local food producers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Just add music

Just add music

Ingredients
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (We used Straus Family organic sweet cream butter)
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
¾ pound ground beef chuck, ¼ pound ground veal, and ¼ pound ground pork
(We chose to use mostly ground, grass fed beef and some ground pork which makes the sauce sweeter. We didn’t use ground veal.)
1 cup whole milk (Straus Family milk has a full, rich flavor. Cream makes the sauce too heavy).
1 cup dry white wine (We used a terrific white wine from the wine making region of Rueda in Spain – a Verdejo by V-solo – on sale that week at Whole Foods).
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juice (We used Berkley’s roasted tomatoes instead since we had them on hand from our weekly CSA, Tolay Valley Farms.)
Sea Salt to taste
1 pound dried pasta (we used fusilli because it is kid friendly)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven or pot then add and sauté the onions, carrots and celery until softened (not browned).  Add the ground meats and ½ teaspoon salt and continually crumble the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Only cook until the meat is cooked, but has not yet browned.

Reduced after 2 hours

Reduced after 2 hours

2.  Add the milk and bring to a simmer; continue simmering until the milk evaporates and the clear milk fat remains (about 10 to 15 minutes). Add the wine and bring to a simmer, continuing to simmer until the alcohol evaporates (another 10 to 15 minutes).  Add the tomatoes with their juice and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to a low simmer so that there is just the occasional bubble or two at the surface at one time. Simmer on this low setting until most of the liquid has evaporated (so, no simmering with the lid on), about 3 hours (four hours if you double the recipe, which we did.) Add salt to taste (we added at least another teaspoon of sea salt to our doubled recipe). You can make this sauce in advance and refrigerate or freeze it. We made it two days ahead for the family reunion.

3. Make pasta according to the package directions, leaving a little bit of cooking water on the pasta which helps distribute the thick meat sauce.) Serve in individual bowls with sauce ladled on top and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

To start out the evening, my sister, Kris, served beautiful Bruschetta (actually pronounced brus’ketta), and we rounded our meal by creating a salad bar with organic veggies and cheesy garlic bread.
FamilyAtTheTableB&W

The best part about the evening was seeing my family members eating with delight; laughing as they shared a delicious meal made with love.