Polenta with beef ragù is a hearty meal that will satiate anyone’s appetite as well as offer a pleasant alternative to eating pasta. Polenta is as old as the Roman ruins; It actually originated in Ancient Rome and was cooked from farro (similar to barley). Today, polenta is commonly made from yellow or white ground cornmeal. As a result of its humble ingredients, polenta is still classified as a peasant dish in Italy. However, do not let this fool you — whether you add butter or Caciocavallo Podolico (one of the world’s most expensive cheeses), polenta can be as unassuming or as decadent as you want it to be. Polenta also has the stigma of being a food that requires your entire Saturday to cook. This is not necessarily true; this creamy concoction takes all of 15 minutes to whip up. Polenta can be eaten by itself as an appetizer or as a first course. However, I like to serve my polenta with a pile of heaping beef ragù on top.
Beef ragù is merely meat sauce. There are numerous variations on how to prepare ragù (The same can be said for marinara sauce as well). One of my favorite ragu’s, a popular Tuscan variety, is made with wild boar. Yes, sounds inhumane, but oh so tender. Wild boars are used primarily to dig up wild truffles in Northern Italy. However, boars are pigs and thus, many hunters have found that the boars are not only notorious for unearthing the truffles, but for eating them as well (I would too if I were the boar). As a result, many Italian truffle hunters have opted to training dogs to harvest the truffles instead. While wild boars are running rampant in the Tuscan hillside, they are not in the DC metro area. For this reason, I’ve always made my ragù with beef and probably will continue to do so until butchers around me start importing Italian boar.
6 C water
1 3/4 C yellow cornmeal
1 C parmigiano cheese
3 TBSP Butter
2 tsp. salt
1 TBSP Basil
2 TBSP Truffle Oil (Optional)
Bring the water to a boil. Add the salt and gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook stirring often about 15 minutes or until the polenta becomes thick. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, cheese, basil, and truffle oil. Set aside.
Beef Ragu Directions:
This recipe has been adapted from a W&S Florence cookbook. I’ve made a few changes including using red wine instead of white as well as using diced tomatoes instead of crushed tomatoes. You can generally use whichever you prefer. I tend to like red wine with meat and like a chunkier consistency to my sauce.
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 fresh sage leaves or 1 tsp. dried
1.5 lbs. ground beef
1/2 C red wine or dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 can diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
3 oz. cremini or porcini mushrooms chopped (optional)
In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, carrots, and garlic, and saute until softened about 10 mins. Add the sage leaves and beef, breaking up the beef with a wooden spoon. Raise the heat to high and cook until meat is browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and cook until liquid has evaporated about 3 minutes. Stir in 1.5 C cold water and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Season again with salt and pepper. Stir in the tomatoes and mushrooms and simmer on low for another 30 minutes. Season again if needed.
Serve beef ragù over polenta. Sprinkle with parmigiano cheese. Buon appetito!