I'm a huge fan of rapini (broccoli rabe) and sausage with pasta, in fact, next to a good carbonara it's probably my favorite pasta dish. It's such a great combination of flavors and textures, bitter, sweet, salty, spicey…you name it, and that dish has it. The other day I was hankerin' for a big bowl of the stuff, but when I checked the pantry I found we were out of gluten-free pasta, and as I'm trying hard to keep the missus wheat-gluten free, I decided to twist the dish up a bit and make it with polenta instead.
As I started to pull stuff together for the dish I recalled that a couple of the kids really struggle with creamy polenta…. it's a consistency thing. There are a few of our gang, who shall remain nameless, that can't take a bite without a having a look of imminent sickness creep across their face. You know the one, it's the one that if translated would say, "I am not kidding, I'm going to totally hurl on your shoes if you make me eat another bite of this sludge".
I know the look all too well as it is the same look I conjure when forced to eat a bite of Maypo….dang, I'm getting the shivs just thinking about it.
For me, polenta has enough body or bite to not cause this "ewww, it feels like I'm eating baby food" gag reflex, but a couple of our gang aren't so lucky. So, with this knowledge in-hand I decided to make polenta cakes instead. Making polenta cakes is hardly more involved than making creamy polenta, you just have to pour the cooked gruel into in a buttered baking dish and let it cool to firm up. When cooled, you cut it from the dish and give each puck a quick saute in a little EVOO and butter to crisp their tops and bottoms and to warm them through. In the end you get all that great polenta flavor without the troubling kid-gag, a win-win in anyone's book.
I generally add golden raisins to my rapini-sausage pasta dish as I like the sweetness they bring. Here I used some dried cranberries (I was out of raisins) and loved the way it came out. The whole green and red thing makes the dish look pretty festive too, don't you think?
Ho-Ho-Ho – Steve
Rapini with Sausage, Cranberries and Polenta Cakes
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup polenta
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 bunches rapini (broccoli rabe), rinsed and stems trimmed
- 1/2 pound sweet italian sausage
- 1/2 pound hot italian sausage
- 1/2 cup craisins
- 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- splash of dry white wine
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Bring the water, milk, and salt to a boil. Slowly whisk in the polenta. Turn heat to low, and continue whisking for 5 minutes, or until polenta is smooth and creamy. Spread the polenta in a 9x9 baking dish, and set aside to cool.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the rapini into the pot, let the water come back to a boil, then cook for 2 minutes. Pour the rapini into a colander and rinse under cold water until cool. Roll the stalks in a clean kitchen towel to dry, then chop into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
- Pull the sausage from its casings into little nuggets, and cook them over medium heat in a large skillet until nicely browned and cooked through. Remove the sausage to a bowl and dump any excess fat out of the pan. Place the pan back over the heat and deglaze with the splash of wine, scraping up any brown bits left from the sausage. Add the garlic and cook for one minute, then add the stock and reduce by half. Add the rapini, sausage, pine nuts and dried cranberries to the pan along with a knob of butter and stir to incorporate. Cook until heated through, check seasoning, remove from heat and keep warm.
- Put 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter into another skillet, set over medium heat. Using a 3" round cookie cutter, cut out circles of the firm polenta, and place in the heated skillet. Cook until slightly browned and crusty on one side, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other sides another two minutes.
- Serve the rapini and sausage on or next to a polenta cake, top with freshly grated (or sliced with a peeler) parmesan cheese.