Polenta con Salsicce e Fagioli

Polenta with Sausage and Beans

Polenta is one of those Italian staples from the cold northern regions of the country, which has never become as popular, outside of the areas of its origin, as other Italian specialties. Made with cornmeal, trickled into boiling salted water and stirred until thick and cooked through, the resulting, very thick porridge is then cut into slabs or poured into a bowl and served alongside a stew or with cheese, fish, or vegetables. It is very much a dish that belongs to the country’s poorer past when bread and meat were rare. Traditionally wet polenta would be poured onto a board in the center of a table and everyone would dive in and help themselves—real rustic eating! This classic combination of hot polenta served in slabs with beans and sausages simmered together like a casserole would have kept both hunger and cold at bay for many households during the course of Italy’s checkered past.

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Ingredients

  • cups fresh or dried or canned cranberry beans
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste, diluted in 4 tablespoons warm water
  • 12 Italian sausages
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Polenta

  • 7 cups cold water
  • cups ground cornmeal (polenta flour)

Method

  1. If using fresh or dried beans, soak overnight in cold water, then drain and rinse. Boil quickly in salted water for 5 minutes to remove the natural toxins, then drain and rinse again. Cover generously with fresh water and simmer gently for about 40 minutes, or until tender. If using canned beans, rinse under cold running water.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic, onion, celery, carrot, and parsley and fry until all the vegetables are soft, then add the tomato paste. Stir together thoroughly and add the sausages. Fry for a few minutes, then add the beans and all their liquid. Canned beans can be added at this stage with extra water or stock added to make up the liquid required.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste and cover with a lid. Leave to simmer for about 45 minutes, or until thickened and rich, with the consistency of a stew.
  4. While the sausages and beans are simmering, prepare the polenta. Pour the water into a wide, heavy, preferably copper pan and place it over a high heat. Bring the water to a boil. Sprinkle in the cornmeal (polenta flour) with one hand and so that it falls like rain into the water and beat constantly with the other.
  5. When all the cornmeal (polenta flour) has been beaten into the water, reduce the heat to medium low and begin to stir with a strong, long-handled wooden spoon until the polenta comes away from the sides of the pan. This will take about 45 minutes and requires a strong action.
  6. Turn the polenta out onto a wooden board and smooth it into a mound shape with a spatula. Allow it to stand for about 5 minutes, then cut it into slabs and serve hot with its accompanying stew or casserole. Alternatively, serve with a slice of very strong flavored cheese such as Gorgonzola.

Serving Suggestion

As an alternative, you can leave the polenta to go completely cold, then slice as required and broil, fry, or bake. Serve the sausages and beans poured over a wedge of the freshly sliced polenta.

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