Sunday, January 4, 2009

Recipe: Chourico and Polenta

Today's world food that you can prepare at home comes at you straight out of the Azores via some Italian inspiration. Chourico and Polenta despite its peasant leanings is a visual and taste sensation worthy of a place on the finest of menus.

I originally wrote this recipe the morning after I first made this dish. I usually reserve those times for informally jotting down recipes from the previous night if I've cooked something new. Sometimes there is an advantage of spilling my fresh memories via stream of consciousness, right onto the keyboard. Hell, my editor has to clean up that mess anyway! Since I first made this dish though it has gone through a great deal of tweaking and refinement and while it is a bit complicated, it is well worth the effort.

This dish was originally inspired by a dinner I had at the celebrated Al Forno Restaurant in Providence, RI. I was there celebrating my one-year wedding anniversary, (I highly recommend the restaurant, the food is excellent, especially the grilled pizza). That evening I had delicious homemade Italian sausages served on an onion, celery, carrot and tomato sauce, with an amazingly light polenta. All this was baked to harmonious affect in a casserole dish and served al forno of course! The resulting blend of flavors was subtle, impressive and well balanced. Of course I immediately thought it would have been better with chourico!

Now, I've obviously made some dramatic changes to the original dish. Principally, the sauce had to be more robust to stand up to flavor of the spicy chourico. I did this with the inclusion of a good amount of just-cooked onion and red pepper and the use of a similar but more robust mirepoix-based tomato sauce. The result is a hearty sauce and ingredient combination that complimented not only the chourico's flavor, but texture as well. The crunch of the red pepper and onion matched that of the baked chourico's casing.

As for the polenta, what I write three times is law:


Sure, preparing homemade polenta can be a little labor intensive, but homemade polenta is going to be creamier, lighter and tastier. When you eat this you are going to get bursts of tart and spicy flavors that are pleasantly contrasted by the sweetness of the polenta. The polenta's cool, silky creaminess is also going to contrast with the crunch of the chourico casing and the green peppers.

It's a multi-tasking dish surely, but well worth the effort because it looks so colorful on the plate and the "Circus-comes-to-town" texture and taste experience makes it a home run.

Chourico and Polenta

For the polenta:

6-1/2 cups of water
2-1/2 cups of polenta
2 tsp salt

For the sauce:

2 TBS olive oil
1 carrot (chopped fine)
1 stick of celery (chopped fine)
1 onion (chopped fine)
1 bay leaf
1 cup of dry white wine
2 cups tomatoes (chopped)
1-2 TBS tomato paste
4 cloves of garlic (thinly sliced)
1 TBS parsley (finely chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste.

For the vegetable and chourico mixture:

1 TBS peanut oil
1 red pepper (cut into large 1" dice)
1 large onion (frenched)
1-1/2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
1 lb. (approx) of chourico
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Set the oven to 350°F

While the oven warms prepare the polenta:

In a large pan over high heat bring the 6-1/2 cups of water and 2 tsp of salt to a high boil.

Whisk in the polenta in a slow steady stream. When the polenta begins to thicken switch to a wooden spoon and continue constantly stirring until the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer the polenta into a large, square glass dish to a depth of 1 inch. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the fridge until it sets (about 1 to 2 hours).

Place the chourico in a lightly oiled oven-proof pan and place it in the oven for about 30 minutes. You'll want to keep an eye on it. You want it to roast so that the skins crisps up nicely without drying out the rest of the sausage. When done remove from the oven and keep warm. Do not shut off the oven.

To prepare the sauce:

Place a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and when it begins to shimmer add the carrot, celery, onions and bay leaf. Sauté well until the vegetables begin to brown.

Add the wine to mixture and deglaze. Allow the wine to boil off and let the mixture thicken.

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley and garlic to the mixture and lower to a simmer. Check for, and adjust seasoning.

To prepare the vegetables and chourico:

Warm the polenta in the oven while you prepare and cook the vegetables and chourico.

Slice the chourico into 1/2" thick pieces. Set aside.

Place a large fry pan or wok over high heat. Add one tablespoon of oil and immediately add the red pepper, frenched onion and cherry or grape tomatoes. Cook them stirring frequently. You want them heated and cooked through, but still crunchy. Add the chourico at the end for a few moments to warm it further.

To serve, place the polenta on a plate. Spread some of the sauce over the polenta. Add the vegetable and chourico mixture and then top with a little more sauce. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley.

Recipe: Chourico and Polenta from Chop Onions, Boil Water - World Food at Home by Henry Krauzyk

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