Monday, September 28, 2009

Mike D's Polenta with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage


A couple days after I posted that polenta recipe a week or so ago, I received an email from my good friend Mike D. Mike's a great guy. He and his wife Kat just had their first child today, and they're going to be great parents. Mike's just one of those people who's an inherently good person you're proud to call a friend, always eager and genuinely interested in hearing about what's going on in your life--he's just a person who truly cares.

My favorite memory of Mike happened when Jen and I were living in Astoria, NY, in Queens. Jen and I were in the 42nd street station in Times Square, which is probably the busiest subway station in the biggest city in the US. So the chances of seeing someone you know--especially since we knew so few people in the city--are absurdly small, especially when you take into account that Mike and Kat (and the new addition to their fam) live in New Jersey, and Jen and I were living 20 minutes outside the city in Astoria. But we just happened to run into each other right there in the heart of the station, and it was a great feeling to see a friendly face in a sea of unknown ones, especially given the ridiculously low odds of such a thing happening. Mike and I have since marveled at those odds, and both count that memory as a fond one.

So last week, after my polenta post, I received an email from Mike that I'll repost here:

I thought of this when I saw your polenta recipe. This is a very rustic Italian meal my wife and I love on cold winter nights:

1 bundle of broccoli rabe
1 1/4 cups cornmeal
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package Italian hot sausage

All three parts of this one-dish meal are made separate and thrown together at the last minute.

Sausage: De-tube the sausage, if you can't find ground hot sausage. Simply brown this in a non-stick frying pan.

Broccoli Rabe: Cut the stems, then cut the rabe, then chop it, and blanch in a pot of hot water. Once it's tender, drain it and put the rabe back in.

Cornmeal mush: In a medium saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil. In a separate bowl, mix the milk and the cornmeal. Once the water is boiling, whisk in the wet cornmeal. This method insures zero lumps, and the milk makes it creamer.

Once the cornmeal is done, dump the sausage and cornmeal into the pot with the broccoli rabe, and mix it together, then serve. Goes great with red wine and crusty bread.

I hope it intrigues you enough to give it a try, it's a fave of mine.

Needless to say, given my newfound appreciation for homemade polenta, I was eager to test out Mike's recipe. Sure, it's referred to as cornmeal mush in the recipe, but it's essentially soft polenta. And while I'd never cooked with broccoli rabe before, Jen and I had gone to Antica Pizzeria a few weeks ago (which is supposed to be one of the top 25 pizzerias in the country, according to this list, and most definitely was the best pizza Jen or I had ever had), and had a pizza with the aforementioned veggie, italian sausage, and smoked mozzarella. This was a delicious pizza, and the broccoli rabe had been a major contributing factor to its great flavor, so we were eager to try making it at home.


Here's the hot Italian pork sausage we used.


Start out by washing, chopping, and blanching the rabe in boiling water with a little salt. One neat trick for blanching that I read in Tom Colicchio's Think Like a Chef is that if you cover the pot, the veggies you blanch will lose their color, so leave your pot uncovered. I actually received the book in the mail last week from Jason Hissong, writer of the weekly Windy City Cooking here at BCC, which came as a complete surprise. Thanks again, Jason!


To check for tenderness, which should occur around the 4-5 minute mark, stick a fork or knife through a thick chunk of rabe stalk. If the utensil cuts through cleanly, it's ready. Have a cold water bath ready, and drain your rabe and then toss it into the cold water in order to shock it and stop it from cooking. Don't worry about how cold the rabe's going to get, because when you add it to the polenta at the end, it'll warm back up very quickly. This also saves you a pot, so you can get the polenta cooking in the same pot you just blanched the rabe in. Trust me, I'm all about minimizing the number of dishes that need to be done after a delicious meal.



Start your sausage browning, and once it's a little more than halfway done, get your cornmeal mush or polenta going. That way, the sausage should be done just as the polenta's ready and you've folded the rabe in. Drain the sausage while the hot polenta is reheating the rabe.


Throw in your cooked sausage--


--and remove to a bowl. Enjoy with some crusty bread. Thanks again for the recipe, Mike, and congratulations to you and Kat on the birth of your son!


Thanks for stopping by Beach City Cooking, and I'll see you all very soon for another edition of Windy City Cooking. Have a great night, and stay cool!

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