Sausage with Peppers and Polenta + A Life Lesson on the Side
I'm always surprised by what people get excited about on Instagram. So often I'll take what I think is just a perfect image of an amazing dish and no one says a peep. Other times, I'll toss up a quick snap of a delicious, but not what I'd call the most photogenic dish, and my DMs flood with positive feedback. This happens all the time and both confuses me and teaches me an important lesson: care less. Don't care about what people think or what is 'perfect' because people don't care about your perfectly arranged salad anyways. Especially for Type A perfectionists like myself, I think this is an important lesson about life in general too. Care less, reap benefits. Simple right?
This exact situation happened this week when I posted the least photogenic food on earth (IMO anyways): sausage. Growing up sausage, peppers, and onions was the classic combination, so very special while being really nothing special. I don't know anyone who doesn't like this dish. It's a trusty old friend. The leftover meat and veg become the best omelet, while all the extra pan drippings turn into a delicious tomato sauce for later. Remember how pork makes everything better?!
Yes you could throw all the ingredients together, send it to the oven and be done, but my mom always had a particular method of keeping things separate. The reason we do things separate is to give everything a chance to develop some flavour on it's own, plus allow the meat to brown as opposed to just steam or boil. There's nothing wrong with that either, just personal preference here. At least once a week someone in our family Whatapp chat asks "@mom can you remind me how to make the sausages?" So maybe I'm posting this here more for my sisters and myself to remember, but why not share the wealth with all of you?
Rambles aside, here is my mom's traditional cooking method, with some adjustments to get the sauce done in time for dinner as well (normally this was done later for the next day). I also added chickpeas because #porkandbeansforever and swiss chard because a little green never hurt anyone. I serve it with polenta because it's a quick, comforting, delicious and easy way to sop up juicy bits (crusty bread works too). Also I love leftover polenta with eggs -leftovers are what it's all about people.
searching the group chat for the recipe
Sausage and Peppers + Saucy Chickpeas and Greens + Polenta
4 mild spicy sausages, or not spicy at all if you prefer
1/2 cup white wine
1 rosemary sprig
dried oregano, dried or fresh thyme *optional, or use dried parsley
*optional, or use dried parsley
4 red bell peppers, sliced into fairly thin strips
1 large yellow onion, sliced into thin halfmoons
salt and pepper
more dried oregano, dried or fresh thyme *optional, or use dried parsley
2 large garlic cloves, smashed *optional, mom never added this
1 28oz can whole tomatoes
1 19oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 bunch swiss chard, leaves only, chopped into thin ribbons
handful fresh parsley, chopped *optional
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed into a powder *optional
1 cup polenta (cornmeal)
4 cups water or stock
1-2 tbsp butter *optional
1 tbsp nutritional yeast and/or big handful finely grated parmigiano or pecorino *optional
note you cannot have too much cheese here.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the sausages into a large baking dish, large enough and with high enough sides to fit everything by the end. Pour white wine all over, break up the rosemary on top and sprinkle about 1/2 tsp each thyme and oregano all over. Get this in the oven for 25 minutes.
Take this time to slice your veggies. Preheat olive oil in a large skillet on the stovetop over medium heat. Throw the onions and peppers in with a good hit of salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and let steam for 5 minutes or so to get things started. After you remove the lid, add the garlic if using, and sprinkle some thyme and /or oregano and/or parsley here too. Keep stirring every once in a while. If it is sticking to the pan, add a few drops of water and give it all a good stir.
Meanwhile, you can start on your polenta. The ratio is always 4:1 water to polenta here. Get your water or stock heated in the pot and slowly pour in the polenta while you whisk. Add some salt, specifically if you're using water, and give it a good whisk. I am not in the "you must consistently whisk forever" camp, but I also don't wan't you to forget about it. If you're busy, running around and will be stirring less often, keep it to pretty low heat. Otherwise keep to medium heat and give it a good whisk every few minutes or so to prevent it all from clumping at the bottom of the pot or spitting when it boils (which hurts!). The polenta looks like it comes together after about 5-10 minutes, but trust me it isn't done. That's fine because the rest of the meal isn't done either!
When you pull the sausage out of the over, flip them all over, add the chickpeas and give them a good toss. There is likely some browning bits in the corner of the pan, so try to get the chickpeas into there to pick up that goodness. They should start taking on colour immediately. Place this back in the oven for an additional 20 minutes.
By this time, the onions and peppers should be nice and soft with the onions taking on some red colour. Turn them off or just keep them on low.
Remove the sausage from the oven and place them on a dish. Keep the chickpeas where they are, and add the canned tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir everything together and smash the whole tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Increase the oven to 425F and get this in the oven for another 20 or so minutes. You want it it to darken and thicken slightly and you want the 'raw' tomato flavour to turn into 'delicious meaty' tomato flavour. Some of the extra liquid here will be absorbed by the swiss chard, so don't stress about it.
The polenta should be actually done by now. When it's nice and creamy and doesn't seem like gritty sand in your teeth, just keep it to low heat while you season it and finish everything else. If it's gotten too thick, give it a good vigorous whisk and add a touch of liquid if you need, but I rarely find I need to add more. If you're doing this ahead, remove from heat and lay plastic wrap tight onto the polenta to prevent a skin from forming. I like to crack lots of black pepper here and make sure it's got some good salt to it, but you can season to your liking. I like to finish with cheese as well, but sometimes I'm in a rush and will dump nutritional yeast (do this if you're dairy free) in instead of pulling out my microplane. I like to use a microplane to grate my cheese so that I end up with a fine 'cheese snow' which melt so nicely. On this particular night I actually added both. Add and whisk away until you're happy with it. You can finish it with some butter for extra gloss but it's not necessary, especially when you have all the beautiful tomato sauce to add later. When I serve polenta in my cooking classes there is always butter. If you wonder why restaurant food is always better, the answer is butter.
Is this seeming like a lot of steps? We're almost done! Pull the sauce and chickpeas out of the oven and mix in the swiss chard and onion and pepper mixture. Stir it all together. Cut the sausages into thirds or quarters and place them on top. Get this back in the oven just heat it all together for about 10 minutes and meld the flavours. You can skip this if you're in a rush (in which case you can throw the swiss chard into the pepper mix on the stove and cook it there instead), but I like having down time here to clean up the mess I've made in the process.
Remove the finished dish from the oven, taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Sprinkle the crushed fennel seeds and chopped parsley all over top if using. Ladle a nice scoop of polenta onto each plate and then top with the whole saucy mix, making sure to get a bit of everything. If you want to be a little extra, sprinkle some more cheese on top. Pour some wine and enjoy.
note: you'll notice half the ingredients here are listed as optional, that's because kind of anything goes and you don't have to do any of the extras if you don't have them or don't want to. Not adding parsley will not ruin this. If you're going to throw everything together in one shot, be sure to slice your onions and peppers very thinly. Keep the cooking method the same (350F, cook for 25 minutes, flip sausages and cook another 20 minutes, cut sausages up and cook for 5).
messiest plating I've ever done, but keeping in the theme
of the day, I don't care.