It’s been a pretty tough and trying weekend, that only got worse last night at the news that my “other” grandmother Auntie Win had just passed away. She & her husband were my grandparents’ first neighbours when they came from Italy to live in Australia, and it was a friendship that turned into family and remained fiercely strong for many decades. Without children (or therefore grandchildren) of her own, Auntie Win became another grandmother. She was at all the family birthdays and Christmases, she was our family. She also lived a long and wonderful life, and I will miss her.
As the proper Italian I also am, though (which Auntie Win would understand having spent most of her life around my grandparents), times like these call for a bit of comfort food. Polenta is comfort food for me. It reminds me of my grandparents and being a kid again, being safe and warm and knowing that everything was going to be fine, because that’s how I always felt around my grandparents. When I’m a little flat and down and not sure if things are really going to be ok, I like to make myself a bowl of polenta with some sort of thick, chunky sugo (sauce) piled on top. The combinations are endless, but some variation of tomato and mushroom has always been my favourite, so here’s the latest polenta bowl of love from my kitchen.
Ingredients (2 serves)
For the polenta:
– ½ cup polenta (cornmeal)
– 1 – 2 cups milk (or water if you need a lactose free or lower fat version)
– 1 tbsp butter
– 2 tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
For the sugo:
– 400g cherry tomatoes, halved
– 1 clove of garlic, minced
– olive oil
– salt and pepper
– ½ small brown onion, diced
– 200g pork mince
– 300g button mushrooms, quatered
– 2 large tomatoes, diced
– 1 cup plain tomato pasta sauce
– 2 cups baby spinach, chopped
– ½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
– finely grated parmesan cheese, to serve
1. To make the sugo, place the cherry tomato halves, cut side up, in a baking dish. Mix the minced garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and pour over the tomatoes, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place under a hot grill for 10 – 15 minutes, until the tomatoes start to brown and char, and the skin shrivels a bit. Remove from the grill and set aside.
2. Heat a saucepan over medium heat and drizzle a little olive oil. Add the onion and pork mince and cook, stirring constantly, until the pork is no longer pink. Then add the mushroom and keep stirring and cooking until they begin to brown and shrink a bit.
3. Add the diced and roast tomatoes to the saucepan, along with the pasta sauce, basil, and a little more salt and pepper if you want. Reduce the heat to medium/low and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens a little. Remove from the heat, stir in the spinach until it wilts, and set aside while you make the polenta.
4. To make the polenta, heat the water or milk in a saucepan over high heat. Once the liquid gets to boiling point, turn the heat down to a simmer, and pour the polenta in bit by bit, whisking as you go. Your arm may start to hurt a little, but just keep whisking slowly and constantly for 5 minutes or so, until the polenta thickens up. You can add more liquid if you want your polenta to be a little more soft and runny. Then whisk in the butter and parmesan, and serve between two bowls.
5. Re-heat the sugo if it’s cooled down too much, and spoon onto the polenta. Sprinkle with a little parmesan and enjoy, preferably with a glass of wine!