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Dinner Tonight! | SECOND HELPINGS

Microwave Polenta: It's in the Bag

March 08, 2000|DIANE MORGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I cheated last week and learned an interesting lesson. It was a weeknight, and I was in a hurry to get dinner on the table. My planned menu was soft polenta with grilled vegetables and Italian sausages. As I opened the bag of polenta, I noticed a recipe for quick polenta--cooked in the microwave--on the back of the package. As a cooking purist, I felt I was cheating, and I was certain Italian grandmothers would be wagging their fingers at me.

But no one was looking, so I tried the recipe. Guess what? It worked. I had soft polenta in 15 minutes, stirred only twice, and had enough left over for the main recipe below.

To make a double batch of polenta in the microwave, combine 1 1/2 cups polenta, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 6 cups water in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high 10 minutes. Stir well, cover and microwave 5 more minutes. Spoon out 4 portions for soft polenta. Spread the rest in a buttered jelly roll pan into a 12x10-inch rectangle that's 1/2 inch thick (it will not fill the pan). Cool, cover and refrigerate.

Morgan is author of "Cooking for the Week: Leisurely Weekend Cooking for Easy Weekday Meals," (Chronicle Books, $18.95).

*

Sauteed Polenta Squares With Italian Sausage Sauce

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes

The "pan" of polenta should be a rectangle about 12x10 inches and 1/2 inch thick.

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage, crumbled

1 onion, chopped

1 large stalk celery, leaves removed, chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and chopped

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 cup coarsely chopped parsley

1 pan chilled cooked polenta, cut into 8 squares

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

* Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium heat, swirling oil to coat pan. Add sausage and saute until meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate using slotted spoon; set aside.

* Drain fat from skillet. Add 2 tablespoons oil, and saute onion, celery and carrot over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice. Stir to combine, then simmer, uncovered, until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes.

* Meanwhile, heat 12-inch skillet or stove-top grill pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil and fry polenta squares until lightly browned on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Do not crowd pan; fry in 2 batches, if necessary. Place on baking sheet and keep warm in 275-degree oven until sauce is done.

* Add sausage and parsley to sauce. Stir to combine and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Taste sauce and add salt and pepper, if desired. Place 2 squares polenta, slightly overlapping, on each plate. Spoon generous amount of sauce over and serve immediately.

4 servings. Each serving: 919 calories; 1,080 mg sodium; 65 mg cholesterol; 48 grams fat; 102 grams carbohydrates; 24 grams protein; 3.61 grams fiber.

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