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QUICK FIX

Polenta Pronto

February 25, 1998|JOAN DRAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Drake is a freelance writer living in San Luis Obispo

Curiosity got the best of me at the supermarket recently, and I bought a package of precooked, ready-to-heat and serve polenta. Since traditional methods of making polenta take at least 45 minutes, I couldn't resist giving it a try.

In the Midwest, where polenta is known by the more humble name of cornmeal mush, rectangular "bricks" are sold in the refrigerated food case. There's also a refrigerated, old-fashioned cornmeal mush available, but it's too soft to be sliced.

I vacillated, but bought the plain rather than one seasoned with garlic and basil. Is it as good as homemade? No. But sliced and fried in butter or extra-virgin olive oil, it's quite acceptable as a foil for spicier foods.

The polenta went nicely with a quickly made ragout. Serve the fried slices on the side, over the top or in the bottom of the bowl filled with the sausage-and-vegetable mixture.

Menu (30 MINUTES OR LESS)

Sausage Ragout

Fried Polenta

SAUSAGE RAGOUT

1/2 pound fully cooked smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 onion, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, diced, about 1/2 cup

1/2 red bell pepper, diced, about 1/2 cup

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can sliced plum tomatoes with oregano and basil

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1 (9-ounce) package or 1 cup frozen cut Italian green beans

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt, pepper

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Grated Parmesan cheese

Chopped Italian parsley

If cannellini beans are not available, substitute 1 (15-ounce) can small white beans.

Saute sausage, onion, green bell pepper and red bell pepper in Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring frequently, 6 to 7 minutes. Drain off any fat.

Add tomatoes, broth, green beans, oregano, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.

Stir in cannellini beans and heat through, 3 to 4 minutes. Ladle into wide soup bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley.

4 servings. Each serving:

378 calories; 1,365 mg sodium; 48 mg cholesterol; 22 grams fat; 30 grams carbohydrates; 18 grams protein; 2.52 grams fiber.

FRIED POLENTA

1 (24-ounce) package precooked plain or seasoned polenta

1 tablespoon butter or extra-virgin olive oil or more if needed

Cut polenta into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Melt butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add polenta and fry, using spatter guard, until slightly crisp, turning once, about 5 minutes. Add more butter if needed to fry all polenta.

12 slices. Each slice:

52 calories; 166 mg sodium; 3 mg cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.58 gram fiber.

COUNTDOWN

30 minutes before: Slice sausage, chop onion and bell peppers.

25 minutes before: Begin sauteing sausage, onion and bell peppers.

18 minutes before: Add tomatoes, broth, green beans and herbs to skillet.

15 minutes before: Slice polenta. Chop parsley.

8 minutes before: Add beans to ragout. Fry polenta slices.

Just before serving: Ladle ragout into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley.

INGREDIENTS

STAPLES

Butter or extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion

Dried oregano

Grated Parmesan cheese

Salt, pepper

Dried thyme

SHOPPING LIST

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans

1 (9-ounce) package frozen Italian green beans

1 bunch Italian parsley

1 green bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

1 (24-ounce) package precooked plain or seasoned polenta

1 (1-pound) package fully cooked smoked sausage

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can sliced plum tomatoes with oregano and basil

* Green charger plate from Tesoro, Beverly Hills; Teeter Totter placemats from Silver Skillet, Del Mar, and Livingstone's, Beverly Hills.

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