The other day as I was checking out at the market, the woman behind me asked what was I cooking. I told her polenta Bolognese and she said “ aren’t those 2 different dishes?” I explained they were but combined they became one great meal for a casual dinner party. She said she would try my idea and I gave her the recipe. I hope she did because she won’t be disappointed.
Bolognese sauce has so many variations it is hard to count. In this rather quick rendition the meat sauce is cooked for less than an hour and is full of rich flavor. Certainly the prosciutto, dried herbs and red wine are tasty additions. I will often make a double batch of sauce (and stick it in the freezer) to use for other dishes like polenta lasagna or baked pasta Bolognese.
I remember the first time I tasted a warm bowl of polenta, a thick cornmeal porridge. It was a cold summer day in an Italian mountain village at a restaurant where I was seated at a table with a group of locals. We enjoyed this creamy soul-satisfying dish with a generous sprinkling of dried goats milk cheese.
Traditional polenta takes at least 30 minutes of cooking in a copper pot over low heat with continual stirring. Fortunately, an imported instant (precooked) polenta with a finer texture has become available nationwide. This fine grained polenta yields an excellent flavor as well as texture. I like to add frozen corn kernels to the polenta to give it a bit more texture and corn flavor.
When serving these dishes together remember you can make the Bolognese sauce a few days ahead. Use shallow bowls for a pretty presentation. Begin with assorted Italian antipasto that you can happily pick up at the local deli. To begin, I like to serve a crisp green salad sparked with a citrus vinaigrette. To drink, consider a young, fruity red wine such Zinfandel, Sangiovese or a Rhone varietal.

Help is on the Way:

• You can divide the polenta mixture in half for 3-4 people, if necessary.
• Any remaining meat sauce freezes well.
• Try some of your favorite cheeses to flavor the polenta. Asiago cheese is a nice change from the traditional Parmesan cheese.
• For a vegetarian version, skip the Bolognese sauce and top the polenta with your favorite pesto

Polenta Bolognese

Serves 6-8

Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef sirloin
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 ounces finely chopped prosciutto (about 1/2 cup)
2 (14 1/2) ounce canned peeled and diced tomatoes with juice, finely diced
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/2 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried crumbled oregano leaves
2 teaspoons dried crumbled basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup full-bodied red wine

Polenta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, very finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 cups chicken stock
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 cups instant polenta
1/3 cup freshly grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely diced Fontina cheese

Freshly grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. In a large heavy Dutch oven heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the beef and saute about 4-5 minutes or until it is lightly browned, breaking it up as it cooks. Transfer to a side bowl with a slotted spoon and reserve.
2. Add the remaining oil and saute the onion, carrot, and celery, stirring occasionally, for 6 8 minutes or until softened but not browned. Watch carefully to prevent the vegetables from burning. Add the garlic and prosciutto and saute for 1 minute or until just softened.
3. Add the reserved meat, diced and crushed tomatoes, herbs, wine and salt and pepper to the pan, partially cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes or until the sauce has a well rounded flavor, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf. Keep warm until serving.
4. For the polenta: In a deep large nonstick saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil, add the onion, and sauté for about 5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, being sure not to brown it. Add the salt and stock and bring to a rolling boil. Add the corn. In a thin stream, very slowly add the polenta, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
5. Lower the heat and continue cooking for about 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly to be sure it doesn’t stick, until it is very smooth and stiff. Stir in the Asiago and fontina cheese and stir well to blend.
6. To Serve: Divide the polenta among 6 to 8 shallow bowls, making an indentation in the polenta. Spoon some Bolognese sauce on top, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

By: Diane Rosen Worthington