Holed up in a storm and starving the other night, but limited to staples already available in the house, I resorted to COMFORT food ... Polenta pie! The moral equivalent of lasagna, but with polenta slices in place of pasta, it's quick (assuming the presence of frozen leftovers), it's easy, it's warm and filling. Goes great with Chianti, and it's not even all that bad for you.

Here's my generic rendition:

  • Make a couple of cups of polenta (I usually cheat with the "instant" version from the Italian deli). Pour it into a greased pan so it forms a layer about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, and let it sit at room temperature until it's cooled and thickened.
  • Sautee and drain a half-pound or more of crumbled Italian sausage (or a couple of cups of Italian-style meat sauce).
  • Coat lightly with olive oil an ovenproof casserole (To serve two, I used a terra-cotta bread pan that often gets pressed into service for other duty), and put just a bit of meat sauce on the bottom. Then, slicing the polenta into squares that fit, cover the sauce with one layer of polenta. Pour half the remaining meat sauce on, then top it with about 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiana. Cover with another layer of polenta slices, the rest of the rag'u, and more cheese. Cover this with a third and final layer of polenta and more cheese.
  • Cover the casserole and bake in a 350 oven until it's bubbly, about 30 minutes. Take off the lid (or foil, if you use a bread pan as I did) and let 'er rip for another five or 10 minutes until the top browns. Cool a little, slice and serve.

    It's even better on the second day, re-covered and reheated at 350 just until hot.

    Went great with a cheap Chianti on Day One, and just as well with a Chateauneuf-du-Pape on Day Two.

    A couple of hints to make it simple: Instant polenta is easiest, and only a paisan' can tell the difference. Or if that's unavailable, try this trick: Rather than pouring corn meal gradually into boiling water as the traditional recipes recommend (a process that often leads to serious lumping), try stirring the corn meal into a couple of cups of COLD water, stirring it into a smooth slurry; it's fairly easy to get all the lumps out this way. Then bring the rest of your water to a boil, and stir in the cold-water-cornmeal mix and stir over low heat until thick. It's much easier this way, and to my taste, the final product is indistinguishable.