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8.12.16 Polenta with Italian Sausage and Grilled Cherry Tomato Sauce

8.12.16 Polenta with Italian Sausage and Grilled Cherry Tomato Sauce

Sometimes, the best dinners are the ones that come together at the last possible minute. This recipe, for example, came to me one weekend when we were having friends over for dinner, and I realized last minute that I really didn’t have a plan for what to make. This is a rarity for me, but I told myself not to stress. Something would come to me.  

It’s summer after all. Nearly everything is deliciously in season and even the most minimal preparation results in something extraordinarily tasty. This wasn’t going to be hard. My plan, when it finally emerged, was a good one. Grill up some tomatoes, onions, and sausages, and pile them atop copious amounts of creamy, cheesy polenta.

I went super simple with the grilled veggies here. Salt, pepper, olive oil, and just a bit of balsamic vinegar. This time of year is all about letting those beauties shine. The onions caramelized, the tomatoes and garlic, grilled in a foil-lined grill basket, burst into the simplest of summer sauces, and the salty spiciness of a few italian sausages rounded everything out. The polenta was the perfect accompaniment; extra creamy and full of parmesan and goat cheese. A few stirs of the pot, a few flips on the grill, and dinner was served. It was simple and absolutely wonderful, just the way all summer dinners should be.

Polenta with Italian Sausage and Grilled Cherry Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

When making this for a crowd, I’ve been known to bump this meal up into polenta party status by making extra polenta, serving it in a big bowl, and setting out extra toppings to round everything out. In addition to the tomatoes and sausages, grill up any other vegetables you have on hand (I love things like eggplant, zucchini, and sweet peppers for this), cut them into bite sized pieces, and toss with a splash of balsamic, a glug of olive oil, and some salt and pepper. A bright, summery basil or kale pesto makes a nice addition as well. As always, serve with plenty of extra parmesan for topping.

As for the polenta, I recently stumbled across Maria Speck’s shortcut method for making polenta, which is my current go-to method, and what I have documented in this recipe. This method is so quick and easy, but does require some foresight. If you didn’t plan ahead, it’s okay, you’ll just need some more time, and find yourself doing a bit more stirring with the traditional method (start cooking the polenta while the grill heats, and keep an eye on it during the grilling process).


  • 1 ½ cups boiling water
  • 1 cup polenta (not instant)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ Tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 oz goat cheese

Cherry Tomato Sauce

  • ¾ lb cherry tomatoes, whole if small, cut in half if larger
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped + more for garnish
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large onion
  • ½ lb fresh italian sausages (about 2-3 links)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Start the polenta at least 8 hours ahead. Whisk together the polenta and boiling water in a large pot. Cover, and let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours, and up to 12.

2. Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium heat.

3. Combine the tomatoes, 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp basil, garlic, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Line a grill basket with aluminum foil and pour tomato mixture into it. If you don’t have a grill basket, just wrap the tomato mixture in a foil packet - I recommend multiple layers of foil to prevent leaking.

4. Peel onion, and slice crosswise into medium-thick slices. Brush tops and bottoms of slices with the remaining ½ Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

5. Grill onion slices, italian sausages, and tomato mixture until onions are caramelized, sausages are browned and cooked through, and tomatoes have burst and simmering in their juices, about 10-15 minutes.

6. While everything is grilling, start the polenta. Whisk 1 ½ cups water and salt into the polenta mixture in the pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. When mixture thickens, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally until polenta becomes creamy and thick. Stir in the butter and cheeses and season to taste with additional salt if needed. Pour finished polenta into a large dish just before serving.

7. Chop sausages and onions into bite-sized pieces. Combine in a bowl with the tomato mixture, then pour atop polenta. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve with plenty of grated parmesan to pass.

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