Polenta with Beans and Sausage

Polenta con Fagioli e Salsiccia

When I began to be interested in cooking, my mother would tell me about dishes that she remembered and loved from her childhood. This is one of them, although curiously, she never made it when I was growing up. Perhaps it is because, after marrying my father, she cooked to please him, and he preferred his polenta with cabbage. Listening to her describe traditional dishes like this one that she no longer prepared made me realize I had to write them down. If she didn’t teach them to me, they would be lost in our family, and probably gradually lost in the region.

With such a robust dish, you don’t need much to complete the meal. Follow with Cauliflower Salad , cooked mustard greens, or steamed asparagus.

A note about polenta: In Calabria, polenta is made with fine cornmeal similar to the type used for American corn bread. It is identical to the white cornmeal that Venetians use for polenta, not the coarse cornmeal used in other parts of Italy. Consequently, our polenta cooks more quickly and has a smooth, soft, almost custard-like texture. Moretti’s Bramata Bianca, a packaged white cornmeal from Italy, produces excellent results. Albers Corn Meal, a supermarket brand, also works well.

suggested Wine: Planeta “Santa Cecilia,” Sicily
This Nero d’Avola is relatively big in style, with the tannins and layered fruit that this hearty dish
needs. Alternate: Zinfandel

½ pound (225 grams) dried cranberry (borlotti) beans (see
Resources, page 369) or 3 cups drained canned borlotti beans
Kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ pound (350 grams) hot Italian sausage links
2 cups (500 milliliters) Home-Canned Peeled Tomatoes (page
296) or one 14-ounce (400-gram) can Italian San Marzano
tomatoes, pureed in a blender with the juice

Ground hot red pepper
2 cups (300 grams) fine white or yellow cornmeal (not coarse-
ground polenta, see note above)

If using dried beans, soak the beans for at least 8 hours in water to cover generously. Drain and place in a large pot with fresh water to cover by 2 inches (5 centimeters). Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, skimming any foam. Adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook until the beans are tender, 45 minutes or more, depending on their age. Season with salt and let them cool in the liquid. You should have about 3 cups (750 milliliters) cooked beans. You can prepare the beans to this point a day or two ahead. Heat the olive oil in a 6-quart (6-liter) pot over moderately high heat. Brown the sausages just until they are firm enough to slice, about 5 minutes. Set them aside to cool slightly, then cut into ¼-inch (6-millimeter) slices. Return the slices to the saucepan, in batches if necessary, and brown them until they are crusty on both sides. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the tomato puree to the saucepan. Season with salt and hot pepper to taste. Simmer briskly for about 5 minutes to develop the flavor, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits of meat on the bottom of the saucepan. Add 3 pints (1½ liters) water (you can substitute bean broth for some of the water) and bring to a boil.

educe the heat to low and add the cornmeal in a fine, steady stream, stirring constantly with a whisk so that no lumps form. When the mixture thickens, switch to a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the polenta is thick, smooth, and creamy, with no graininess, about 15 minutes. Add small amounts of water if necessary to keep the polenta soft, not stiff. Drain the beans and stir them into the polenta. Cook for a couple of minutes more, then stir in the browned sausage. Taste for seasoning and serve at once. serves 6 to 8 Polenta with Beans and Sausage