Last weekend, I caught a serious case of the spring cleaning bug. With no plans at all for two days, I swept, dusted, rearranged, and vacuumed my house into tiptop shape. The kitchen and its respective appliances were some of the first to yield to my cleaning frenzy. Rummaging through my freezer, I found – among other things – the following: five parmesan rinds from god-knows-when, a four year old bottle of fish oil pills, three cooling gel eye masks, two turtle doves and a partridge in a – wait a minute…
I also found the remainder of my Dickey Farms’ cornmeal, which I’d purchased at the Winter Farmers’ Market several weeks ago. If you’ll remember, I made some scrumptious rosemary cornmeal muffins with this cornmeal, and saved the rest for another time.
Another time turned out to be Sunday night. Several years ago, when Hubby was still remodeling houses, one of his clients fed him a meal that he came home raving about – layers of creamy polenta, gooey cheese, tomato sauce and sausage, all thrown together in a bubbling casserole. I tried my hand at recreating the dish to his specs, and was pleased with the results – it became yet another recipe jotted down and tossed in my recipe folder, out of sight, out of mind.
While brainstorming for ideas on how to use the rest of my cornmeal, I stumbled upon the scrawled recipe. Gooey layers of polenta and cheese sounded right up my alley, so I immediately got to work. I was also excited to use the rest of my deliciously creamy tomato sauce left over from Oscar Night, which I’d frozen for a later use. (Side note, I promisepromisepromise to give y’all this tomato sauce recipe soon, as it will completely blow your argyles off).
When I made the recipe the first time around, I used fresh mozzarella instead of the drier, Americanized kind more readily found in the cheese section. While fresh mozzarella is delicious, I find it too watery for casseroles; so this time, I opted for the American version and got the result I was looking for – gooey, melty cheese without any of the added liquid.
I also changed things up by using turkey breakfast sausage instead of the hot Italian sausage I used before. The turkey sausage has significantly less fat and calories than the Italian sausage, and is just as delicious. Choose as you like, though – it’s your call.
This recipe lasted us for one dinner and two lunches, and it got better and better with each meal. The polenta firms up nicely and is a delicious, creamy base for the layers of cheese, browned sausage and tomato sauce. As always, I encourage modifying the recipe to fit your tastes. Feel free to change up the cheese to Monterrey jack, switch the sauce to Alfredo, or use chicken instead of sausage – be creative! And more importantly, be hungry – because you won’t be able to stop eating this one. Enjoy!
1 recipe of basic polenta (see below)
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 lb. hot Italian sausage or turkey sausage
2 c. favorite tomato sauce
8 oz. grated mozzarella cheese
3 c. milk
1 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. yellow cornmeal
For the polenta: combine the milk, butter, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat just to a simmer. Slowly add the cornmeal in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Lower the heat to low and continue stirring with a spoon until the mixture has thickened and begins to leave the sides of the pan, about 7 minutes.
For the pie: preheat the oven to 375°. Combine the polenta and 1/4 c. of the grated parmesan cheese in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine, and pour the mixture into a 2 qt. casserole dish.
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet, and sauté the sausage over medium heat, breaking up the pieces with a spoon. Cook until the meat is browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and drain the meat on a paper towel.
Sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the polenta in the casserole dish. Add the sausage in an even layer. Spoon over the tomato sauce, and top the casserole with the grated mozzarella cheese.
Bake until bubbling, 30-35 minutes. Then turn on the broiler and broil the top until browned, about 3 minutes. Let the casserole stand for 10 minutes before serving.
*If the above slide show doesn’t load, you can view all nine Polenta Pie photos on Flickr.
Laura Hobbs is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, visit her author page.