Creamy Polenta with Shrimp and Sausage

It’s been a rather chilly, overcast day here on the Central California Coast.  I’m resisting using the words “cold” and “wintry” in deference to my homies back in the Midwest, where winter has become like a cartoon character completely overplaying his part.  Even so, this California version of winter has me thinking about warming, comforting foods, so today I turned to polenta.

There are some foods, some flavors, some textures that when brought together just so, create a kind of harmony and bliss in the mouth that defy the ordinary.  I speak here today, folks, of the marriage of velvety polenta, unctuous shrimp and spicy Italian sausage.  I could just stop right there and I hope you would be convinced to make this.  But just in case you aren’t, I will mention that this is also quite easy to put together.

It’s especially easy to assemble if you happen to have some marinara sauce just hanging around in the fridge or pantry.  And for those of you who have made polenta before, you know what a snap that is.  Just be sure to allow a good 20-30 minutes for it to cook.  The longer the polenta cooks and the more it gets stirred, the creamier it gets.  And we’re going for creamy here.  We’re also going to add a little butter and cheese at the end to take it even further into the depths of creaminess.  In my world, creamy = comfort.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that…... winter cold² x creamy polenta ÷ shrimp + I.sausage = comfort³.

Creamy Polenta with Shrimp and Italian Sausage
For a printable recipe, click here

 Serves 4

6 large shrimp per person, peeled and deveined
3 T olive oil
3 or 4 links of sweet Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ cups marinara sauce
½  cup chicken broth
¾ cup white wine
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped basil
Grated parmesan cheese for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan.  Remove the casings from the sausage, break into medium-sized chunks and saute in olive oil for 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the chopped onion and crushed red pepper flakes and continue to cook until onion is soft.  Add wine and reduce to about ¼ cup.   Add chicken broth and marinara sauce, parsley, salt and pepper.  Stir to mix well and simmer partially covered for 15 minutes.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Make polenta and keep warm. 

Bring heat under sauce up to low boil and add shrimp.  Cook until they just start to turn pink.  

To serve:  Spoon the polenta into the bottom of a pasta bowl.  Top with sauce mixture.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese, fresh basil and parsley.

For the Polenta

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk
1 cup polenta
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1  1/2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tablespoon finely sliced chives or finely chopped basil

Heat the olive oil in a 2-qt sauce pan over medium-low heat and add the minced garlic. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the chicken broth, kosher salt and milk, and bring to a boil over medium high heat.   Reduce the heat and slowly pour the cornmeal into the hot liquid, whisking to prevent lumps. 

Lower the heat to cook the mixture at a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until the cornmeal is creamy, about 20 to 30 minutes (the more you stir, the creamier it will be). Remove the polenta from the heat and stir the cheese, butter, and the herbs.  Cover and keep warm.