Rome is not especially known for its love of polenta, perhaps because its winters are relatively mild compared with those up in true polenta country skirting the southern rim of the Alps, but there is one polenta dish you are bound to find if you visit Rome in the cold weather months, polenta with sausages and spareribs simmered in tomato sauce.
Serves 4-6 persons
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped (optional)
- Olive oil or lard
- 4-6 sweet Italian sausages (or more if you want)
- 4-6 spareribs (or more if you want)
- A splash of red wine
- Salt and pepper
- 2 large cans of tomatoes
Start out, as usual, with a soffritto, this one of onion and, if you like, a bit of garlic sautéed gently in olive oil or (better) lard until soft and translucent.
Turn up the heat a bit and add your sausages and spareribs. (I fine that one rib and one sausage per person is a healthy portion for a moderate appetite, but you may want to a add few more of each in case someone wants seconds.) Allow the meat to brown lightly. Depending on the size of the pot and how much meat you are using, you may need to do the browning in batches to avoid crowding them.
Once lightly browned, season with salt and pepper, and then pour over a nice slurp of red wine and allow it to evaporate.
Then add enough tomato purée (in the US, use ‘crushed’ canned tomatoes or whole canned tomatoes passed through the largest holes of a food mill) to cover the meat. Lower the heat and cover. Let the sugo simmer for a good hour or more, until the meat is tender and the sauce is nice and thick and rich.
Meanwhile, make a batch of polenta in the usual fashion (see our post on How to Make Polenta).
When you are ready to eat, pour the polenta on to a large serving bowl or—if you really want to eat it in the traditional manner—on a communal wooden board known in Italian as a spianatoia. Make a small well in the center with a wooden spoon and into the well place your meat, covered with a generous lathering of sugo. Serve with grated pecorino cheese.
You can use white wine instead of red if you prefer (or simply omit the wine altogether if you like). Some recipes call for a soffritto of the ‘holy trinity’ of onion, carrot and celery, but I prefer this onion and garlic only version. If you like, you can also add some parsley to the soffritto. Some recipes also call for adding a bit of tomato paste (a tablespoon or two) for added flavor. Some recipes also call for some optional peperoncino
A number of sources will tell you to use fioretto type polenta, which results in a rather soft polenta. It is true that in central and southern Italy—Lazio, Abruzzo and Campania in particular—there is a preference for softer polenta than is normally eaten in the North. (My grandmother Angelina’s polenta was quite soft indeed, almost like a porridge.) But I personally find that this hearty sauce goes better with ‘normal’ large;”>bramata type polenta, cooked rather stiff. Of course, the choice is yours.