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Baked Polenta with Sausage & Tomato-Pepper Sauce

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Italian food doesn't just mean spaghetti, lasagna and other noodles.  Polenta is a great staple that often gets overlooked. This Sunset Magazine recipe just begs for a big family dinner or Sunday supper. This is definitely Italian comfort food!

The Husband and I really enjoyed this. It is so delicious and filling. The bottom is the crispy Polenta topped with a very flavorful meat filled sauce, covered in gooey mozzarella cheese.

A few notes:
- I didn't see fresh oregano at the store, so I used dried in its place. The typical ratio is 1 teaspoon of dried for every 1 tablespoon of fresh. 
- I made my own Polenta using a very basic and quick recipe from Giada De Laurentiis (I have listed the recipe below). If you have an extra 20 minutes or so, it is really worth it. Making my own also allowed me to add more flavor - I added garlic powder and grated Parmesan to my Polenta. After making, just allow to cool and it will firm up. Use a the rim of a standard beverage glass to cut rounds. Very simple!
***IMPORTANT:  I do not believe the best way to crisp up the Polenta is by coating it in tons of oil and broiling as the recipe calls. I used a non stick griddle and seared the rounds up on both sides, getting good browning without all that oil and broiling. I then layered them in the pan as the recipe instructs.
- I added garlic powder and a bit of sugar for sweetness to the sauce. 

Baked Polenta with Sausage & Tomato-Pepper Sauce

5 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise, then cut into thin wedges
1 medium yellow, red, or orange bell pepper, cut lengthwise into thin slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon each salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red chile flakes
1 pound bulk Italian sausage, sweet or spicy (or 1 lb. Italian sausage links removed from their casings)
2 tubes (16 oz. each) prepared Polenta, sliced into 1/2-in.-thick rounds***Fresh recipe below***
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained and sliced into 1/4-in.-thick rounds
garlic powder & sugar, to taste

 Preheat broiler to high. Heat 3 tbsp. oil in a 2- to 3-qt. saucepan set over medium heat, then add tomatoes and oregano and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

 Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp. oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, salt, pepper, and chile flakes, and stir to combine. Cover pan, lower heat to medium, and cook until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add sausage, stirring and breaking it into small pieces with a wooden spoon as it firms up, about 5 minutes. Cover pan and cook until vegetables are tender and sausage is cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes more. Add tomato sauce and simmer 10 minutes.

While sauce is cooking, pour remaining 1 1/2 tbsp. oil into a 9- by 13-in. baking pan and tilt to coat bottom. Add Polenta slices to pan and turn to coat with oil, then arrange slices lengthwise in 3 slightly overlapping rows. Broil Polenta about 4 in. from heating element until golden brown and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes.

Pour sauce over broiled Polenta  then arrange mozzarella slices over the top. Broil until cheese is melted and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Basic Polenta

6 cups water (or chicken/vegetable stock)
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted. At this point you can add in fun things such as cheese, mushrooms, etc. 

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