A Basil Harvest: Polenta with Anise Basil Tomato Sauce

<em>Serves 4 to 6</em>
<p>Polenta is dried Italian corn that is ground a little finer than grits and cooked like cornmeal mush. If you don’t have anise or licorice basil, substitute green basil and add 1 teaspoon of bruised fennel seed. The portabella is a good, meaty mushroom, but any other type of mushroom will do.</p>
<p>• 1 1/2 quarts water<br />
• 1 1/2 teaspoons salt<br />
• 1 1/2 cups polenta</p>
<p>• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil<br />
• 1 1/3 cups diced red onion<br />
• 1 medium stalk celery, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup<br />
• 1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup<br />
• 1 large portabella mushroom, stem removed, halved and cut into slices, about 11/2 cups<br />
• 2 cloves garlic, minced<br />
• 28-ounce can crushed or chopped tomatoes or about 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and pureed<br />
• 1 cup anise or licorice basil leaves, coarsely chopped<br />
• 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)<br />
• Freshly grated Parmesan cheese<br />
• 1/2 cup anise or licorice basil leaves, cut crosswise into thin strips</p>
<p>1. Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy pot and then add the salt. ­Pour the polenta into the boiling water in a steady stream, stirring continuously. When the mixture begins to bubble and erupt, reduce the heat to medium low or low; the polenta should conti­nue to cook but not spatter out of the pot. Cook the polenta, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t stick, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until thick.</p>
<p>2. At this point, the polenta may be spooned into bowls, topped with sauce, sprinkled with cheese, and garnished with basil, or it may be poured into a loaf pan, allowed to cool, and refrigerated for as long as 3 days. To make the dish with cold polenta, turn it out of the pan and cut it into slices about 5/8 inch thick, then into pieces about 2 inches square. Lightly brush the squares with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet under the broiler, on a griddle over medium heat, or on a grill over a medium-hot fire. Cook the polenta for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until it is golden brown on the edges. Arrange the polenta squares on a platter or serving plates and spoon the sauce on top.</p>
<p>3. To make the sauce, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a nonreactive skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and stir 1 minute. Add the celery and carrot and stir occasionally for 4 minutes. Cover and sweat the vegetables for 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stir well, and cook for about 5 minutes; if using fresh tomatoes, cook for 5 to 10 minutes longer.</p>
<p>4. Taste the sauce and adjust with salt and sugar. Add the chopped basil, stir, and cover. Remove the sauce from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes. Taste again for seasoning. Spoon the sauce over the polenta, sprinkle with the cheese, and garnish generously with the basil strips.</p>
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<strong>A Basil Harvest</strong>

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