Sage Throughout the Ages: Baked Polenta with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, and Three Cheeses

Serves 6 to 8

This is our idea of comfort food! Bland cornmeal needs a real shot of flavor, so don’t hold back on the herbs. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

• 1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
• 1 small yellow onion, chopped
• 2 large cloves garlic, minced
• 1 medium red sweet pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
• 1/2 pound mild Italian sausage (the kind with fennel seed and garlic) with casing removed
• 1/2 pound fresh crimini, button, or other mushrooms as available, trimmed and thinly sliced
• 2 1/2 cups milk, broth, or water
• 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
• 1 cup skim- or whole-milk ricotta cheese
• 1/2 cup shredded gruyère or other swiss cheese
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 4 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
• 4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
• Fresh Tomato Sauce (click here for the recipe)
• Chopped fresh Italian parsley and herb sprigs for garnish

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet; sauté onion, garlic, and sweet pepper until hot through. Add crumbled sausage and continue cooking just until meat changes color. Stir in mushrooms and cook until hot through. Drain excess fat and set mixture aside.

Place milk or other liquid in a large, heavy saucepan over moderately high heat; slowly add cornmeal, stirring briskly with a wire whisk to prevent lumping. Bring to a boil and cook 10 minutes, or until mixture is very thick and smooth; stir constantly to prevent scorching.

Remove pan from heat and stir in herbs, cayenne pepper, and ricotta and gruyère cheeses. Add sausage and sweet pepper mixture, combine well, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour mixture into two 9-inch pie plates lined with plastic wrap. Cool on a wire rack, then cover and refrigerate at least an hour, or as long as three days.

When ready to serve dish, preheat oven to 375°F. Cut polenta in wedges and place on an oiled shallow baking pan large enough to hold polenta in one layer without crowding. Drizzle with melted butter and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until polenta is lightly browned and very hot when tested with a small knife in center of wedge. Serve with Fresh Tomato Sauce, and garnish with chopped fresh parsley and sprigs of herbs.

Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay are herbal sages who are now relocating from Cleveland, Texas, to the tiny central Texas town of Round Top, where they will continue writing, teaching, cooking, and gardening.

For more recipes from Sage Throughout the Ages,click here.

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