Last week I woke up and the house was so cold I could barely bear to get out of bed. As I was driving Ella to school (wearing gloves), all I could think about was sausage. I’m an omnivore, but during the workweek our meals tend toward vegetarian. For me, however, colder weather brings with it cravings for heartier fare—stews, braises, soups and meat. On the way home that afternoon I swung into Vera’s, a farm-stand at the base of my road and picked up a package of homemade sweet Italian sausage (among the tomatoes, apples, lettuce and squash, they also sell homemade mozzarella, sausages and various Italian specialties, produced or procured by Vera, the Italian owner). Come dinnertime, I opted for a classic combination of peppers, onions and tomatoes to accompany the sausage, all served over creamy Parmesan polenta. The sausages and vegetables cooked together in the oven, and the polenta came together in about a half hour, with minimum hands-on time.
James has had a crazy couple of weeks. He’s working on the second Hobbit film (on the music side of things) and has been squirreled away in his studio every night. However, as we sat to eat, with a good Pinot Noir in our glasses, Tuesday turned into Friday, at least for a spell. We lingered until he had to go back to work. With the lights casting a glow in the early darkness, and the warm food in our bellies, I didn’t mind the cold air outside. It was our first taste of fall. And it was delicious.
Sausages, Peppers & Tomatoes with Parmesan Polenta
- 4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt , plus more for seasoning
- 1 cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
- 1 ¼- 1 ½ lbs fresh sweet Italian sausages (about 4 sausages)
- 1 medium red onion , thinly sliced
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper , thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves , coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Pinch red pepper flakes , or to taste
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pint grape tomatoes
- ½ lemon
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese , plus more for shaving as garnish
- Basil for garnish , optional
- Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
- Bring the water and 1 of teaspoon salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in the polenta. Bring the polenta back to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook 30-35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, or until the polenta is tender and creamy. Cover and keep warm.
- In the meantime, place the sausages in a 13x9-in baking dish and pour in a quarter-inch of water. Cover tightly with foil. Bake 15 minutes. Transfer the sausages to a plate, pour off the water (save it to season a soup!), then put the onions, peppers, garlic, dried oregano, red pepper flakes and olive oil into the pan. Season with salt and pepper and toss everything around to coat. Place the sausages on top of the vegetables and bake (uncovered) 10 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 450˚F. Flip the sausages over, give the vegetables a little stir, and arrange the tomatoes around the sausages. Bake 10-15 minutes longer, or until the sausages are lightly browned on top and the tomatoes begin to pop. Transfer the sausages to a cutting board. Squeeze the juice of ½ lemon over the vegetables. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
- To finish the polenta, stir in the butter and the grated Parmesan cheese (feel free to eyeball it—a nice pile will do!). Taste and season with salt and pepper.
- Slice the sausages on the diagonal. Spoon the polenta onto plates or into shallow bowls. Arrange the sausage slices on the polenta, then pile the vegetables on top. Using a vegetable peeler, shave some Parmesan over each. If you want, garnish with a bit of basil. Serve it up!