© Constantine William Spyrou
(Sadly, post comes without a picture.)
Intro: I created this dish my senior year of high school in my Culinary Arts Class. We had just learned how to cook polenta, and our teacher had us do a "polenta contest" over the next two classes in which we had to create a polenta dish. He wanted us to use polenta cakes, however, not just the actual creamy-like polenta from fresh out of the pan. He also encouraged us to flavor the polenta. We watched a "Good Eats" episode as part of the polenta lesson, and it compared Italian polenta to Southern grits. It got me thinking that Italian and Southern cuisine flavor profiles could actually be mixed and matched to make a hearty dish. This dish combines Italian polenta and sausage with an Italian-inspired pimiento cheese that has a nice sharpness to it, compared to the strangely sweet and overly tangy pimiento cheese I tend to find in stores. With a basil mascarpone palette cleanser, this one is sure to be a big hit. (By the way, this dish was the top favorite among all of the judges and won that contest in high school.)
(Recipe will make about 12-15 sandwiches)
- 6 cups chicken stock (I used low sodium, but if you think it won't be properly seasoned then regular is fine)
- 1 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (that's approximately half a stick)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary (I made the mistake of not chopping it enough, and there were big pieces of rosemary in the polenta that tended to be intrusive. Don't make my mistake!)
- 1 cup marinara sauce
- 1/4 cup cooked bacon bits (I like mine crunchy and the fat pretty much all rendered out.)
- 1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano (Parmesean cheese can also work)
- 2 rolls of Italian sausage, formed into patties no bigger than 1 in x 2 in
- 1/2 pound grated Pepper Jack cheese
- 1/2 pound grated White Cheddar Cheese
- 1/2 pound shaved/shredded Parmigiano Reggiano (Again, Parmesean works, but not the powdered stuff from pizza places and such)
- 1 4-ounce can diced pimientos
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Green Tabasco Sauce
- 2/3 cup mayonnaise
- Halved cherry tomatoes to garnish
- 1 cup fresh basil, chopped roughly
- 2 cups mascarpone cheese
- 1 bunch fresh arugula
For The Polenta:
Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal, then lower the heat and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, or until the polenta thickens. Turn off the heat, and add in the butter, parmesean, marinara sauce, bacon bits, and rosemary. Stir until fully incorporated and the butter is completely melted. Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper, and pour the polenta into it. Once it begins to cool, transfer to a refrigerator and let it set (In our class, we did this for overnight.)
For the Pimiento Cheese:
In a bowl, combine the pepper jack, parmesean, white cheddar, pimientos, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, cayenne, tabasco, and mayonnaise. Let it sit for at least an hour in the fridge for the flavors to really marry together.
Fold the mascarpone cheese and work it until it begins to soften. This could take a while if it you start just out of the fridge, like I did, so be patient. Once its soft, add the chopped basil and let incorporate. Soften again when you are ready to plate.
Cooking and Assembly:
Cut the cooled polenta into about 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles, and griddle in a pan with oil until its golden brown on both sides and hot all the way through. In a separate pan, cook the sausage patties for about 2 minutes on medium heat, then turn over. After another minute or so, add about 2 tablespoons of the pimiento cheese, and place a a teaspoon of water in the pan (ok, who cares about the amount there, a little water.) Cover and let the cheese melt and the sausage steam for about a minute to 90 seconds, or fully cooked.
On the plate, line around the edge lightly with the basil mascarpone mixture. Place down one polenta cake, then the sausage patty with cheese. Add some fresh arugula to the top of that, then layer on the second polenta cake. Spear with a toothpick and half of a cherry tomato.
This recipe is very time-consuming and complex, as you probably could have guessed, but its great if you know you have a gathering coming up with friends or family that you can plan for, and will definitely be pleasing. If you choose to make this dish, let me know what you think of it! Thanks for reading, and enjoy!