March 8, 2011

Chunky Slow Cooker Sauce with Spicy Turkey Sausage and Polenta

I love a chunky sauce with polenta because of the combination of textures. Polenta, in its just-cooked form, has a consistency that dances on the verge of being congealed while still being silky soft. It is smooth, and  yet at the same time hints gently at the grains from which it was created. These contradictions make this ages-old Italian cornmeal mush utterly addicting. As in I-can't-stop-scraping-the-pan-for-more addicting. 

And they make it the absolute perfect vehicle for a hunky, serious sauce. This sauce is made in the slow cooker but can just as easily be made on the stove. Since it simmers for hours in the slow cooker, the vegetables are fragrant and tender and the flavor of turkey sausage lends a gently meaty, smoky undertone. Served over the polenta, with your favorite soft Italian cheese for topping, it's hard to find a more relaxing and comforting meal than this. I'd even venture to say it tastes even more wonderful the next day... if there is any left over. 

Chunky Slow Cooker Sauce with Spicy Turkey Sausage
Serves 4-6. Adapted from Cooking Light
1 T. olive oil
1 medium to large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped carrot
1 small can mushrooms, rinsed and drained
6 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 link hot Italian Turkey sausage per person
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 T. grape jelly
1 t. sea salt
1/2 t. crushed red pepper
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes in juice
1 t. dried oregano
torn fresh basil
Parmesan, fontina, or other Italian cheese

Directions: Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan until it shimmers, over medium heat, then add the onion, carrot, and mushrooms. Cook until somewhat tender and fragrant, 4-6 minutes, then stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Transfer the vegetables to the slow cooker and add the turkey sausage to the pan. Brown the sausage, turning every few minutes, then transfer to the slow cooker. Stir the remaining ingredients through the crushed tomatoes into the slow cooker. Set to low and allow to simmer 8 hours. Last, stir in the oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with basil and cheese, over polenta. 

Soft Polenta: from the Williams-Sonoma Bride and Groom Cookbook (thanks Cait!)
3/4 cup polenta
2 tsp. sea salt
3 T butter
cheese for serving

Directions: Bring 4 1/4 cups water to a boil in a large, heavy pot over high heat. Lower the heat slightly and add the cornmeal slowly as you whisk, until cornmeal is completely incorporated. Whisk often for the first few minutes to avoid any lumps, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes. Season with salt, stir in butter, and cook until thick, smooth, and no longer grainy, about 25-30 more minutes. Season to taste and serve hot.

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