Polenta’s journey: fancy to familiar

By Melissa Clark New York Times News Service Published Mar 11, 2014 at 12:01AM

Butternut Squash Polenta with Sausage and Onion

Makes 4 servings.

11⁄2 tsp kosher salt, more as needed

1 bay leaf

1 C fine polenta (not quick-cooking)

5 oz seeded and peeled butternut squash, coarsely grated (1 C)

3 TBS unsalted butter

Black pepper, as needed

1 TBS extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed

11⁄2 lbs sweet or hot Italian pork sausage, sliced into 1⁄4-inch rounds

2 tsp minced rosemary

1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)

2 sm onions, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1⁄4-inch half moons

Rosemary sprigs, for garnish (optional)

In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine 41⁄2 cups water, the salt and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in polenta. Stir in squash. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until polenta and squash are very tender, 20 to 30 minutes. If the mixture gets too thick while cooking, add a little more water to the pot. Stir in butter and black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

While polenta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage, rosemary and fennel seeds if using. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is golden and cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes. (Do this in batches if necessary, adding oil if the pan looks dry.) Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Add more oil to the skillet if it looks dry, then add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are tender and golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Return sausage to pan and stir to heat through. Spoon polenta into bowls and top with sausage and onion. Garnish with rosemary if you like.

Note: If you’re using coarsely ground polenta, cook for 30 to 40 minutes, adding more water if it starts to dry out. If you have only instant (or quick-cooking) polenta, add the squash, salt and bay leaf to the boiling water 15 minutes before stirring in the polenta. Coarsely ground cornmeal can be substituted for fine polenta.

Andrew Scrivani / New York Times News Service Butternut squash lends polenta a refined air, and a topping of sausage and onions keeps it simple.