This week, Food editor Russ Parsons is all about polenta gratins. Easy polenta gratins, that is:
"Can there be anything better on a chilly night than a big bowl of polenta topped with a ragù with sausage and short ribs? Well, yes, actually. Lately I've been trying a new twist on polenta. Instead of making it in a pot, I use a gratin dish and then, once the polenta is cooked, I strew over some toppings and return it to the oven for one last bake.
"The beauty of it is that you can make so many great toppings in the hour or so the polenta is baking. One of my favorites, inspired by an idea from Yotam Ottolenghi's "Plenty," is to sauté mushrooms and arrange them over the top along with shredded Fontina cheese. Or you can make a quick tomato sauce, studded with browned cubes of pancetta. I've made this the simple way — with just onions and garlic — but I find that adding diced carrots and celery gives a sweeter, more rounded flavor to the sauce."
The polenta is a technique Russ has written about before, in which polenta is cooked in the oven rather than on the stovetop. Cooked in the oven, polenta requires much less active work. Baking it in a gratin dish topped with any of a number of flavorful variations simply makes it more magical.