Polenta Al Forno with Chard and Sausage

Baked Polenta with Chard and Sausage

Do you like polenta? Then you'll like this. Don't like polenta? Move on. Or maybe not if you enjoy a good egg bake. This dish contains no eggs but there's something about its soft yet sturdy consistency that had me thinking "egg bake". 

I made the mistake of telling my husband it was sort of like lasagna with polenta instead of noodles and he refused to love it because lasagna is one of his favorite dishes. Anything less set him on a path of disappointment (and me on furious selling..."but the cheesy middle with the sausage is so similar" and "don't you love how creamy the polenta is?"). He wasn't having it. Had I presented it as an alternative to an egg bake I think I would've been hearing a different tune. But instead all I got was, "It's OK but it's not like lasagna - where's the red sauce and noodles?"  Important to manage expectations. Lesson learned.

This version of Polenta Al Forno had me swooning and it's even better warmed up the next day. Creamy and slightly crispy polenta with an even creamier center of ricotta, chard, lemon zest and sweet Italian sausage. It would be great for a brunch spread - you can assemble it the night before and bake in the morning.

Polenta Al Forno with Sausage

adapted from The New York Times

2 sweet italian sausage links, casings removed
1/2 white onion
1 bunch swiss chard
2 cups ricotta
Pinch cayenne
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1/2 cup grated Mahon (Spanish cheese I had on hand - Pecorino or fontina would work too)
2 tablespoons butter

Basic soft polenta

1 cup corn grits/polenta (organic if possible)
2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375ยบ.

2. Dice onion. Heat saute pan over medium heat with a little olive oil. Add diced onions and sausage and saute, breaking up sausage with a fork, until both are cooked through (onion translucent, sausage brown). Set aside.

3. Trim chard of woody stems and chop roughly. Blanch in salted boiling water, drain and squeeze out excess water with your hands. Set aside on a clean towel.

4. Combine ricotta, cayenne, lemon zest, and all but 2 tablespoons of cheese and mix well. Add chard and stir to blend.

5. Prepare polenta. Bring 5 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt to boil and slowly add polenta, whisking constantly for 2-3 minutes until it thickens up a bit. Turn heat to low and cook for 25 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until thick. Taste and make sure grains are soft and creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add a few tablespoons of cream (optional) and stir to blend.

6. Assemble dish. Butter bottom and sides of 9 x 12 pan. Ladle half of polenta on the bottom, spreading it evenly. Crumble sauage and onion mixture over that. Spoon ricotta mixture over sausage. Top with remaining polenta, again spreading it to the edge. Sprinkle with reserved cheese and bake for 30 minutes or until top is lightly browned.

Baked Polenta with Chard and Sausage
Wouldn't it be nice if I had a photo of the whole pan?
One of the drawbacks of serving a dish at a dinner party, kind of rude to say,
 "I just need to shoot this and then we can eat."


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