Polenta with Little Meatballs in a Rustic Sauce
I think it is fair to say that everybody loves meatballs in tomato sauce- it's simply the truth! If we are talking Italian comfort food- what could be yummier than a dish full of steaming, nutmeg and parmesan-laced polenta with plenty of little meatballs in a quick and tangy tomato sauce like this? Oh, well maybe a lasagne... pasta al forno... or a yummy risotto... all wonderful, satisfying Italian dishes for sure! But this is so much easier and quicker that I know it is is going to become a favorite!
I made this quick and tangy tomato sauce, using "stratto", which a refined paste made of sun-dried tomatoes, but of course regular tomato paste will work just fine. Stratto is a traditional Sicilian product, which has an ages old history. Back in the old days, when there was no refrigeration or canning, people would dry tomatoes in the sun, preserving them with salt, for use in the winter months. Apart from the sun-dried tomatoes we are familiar with, there is also "capuliato", which is made by grinding them through a meat grinder, or stratto, made by passing them through a food mill to extract (hence the name) the tender tomato whilst separating it from the tough skins. So now you know! ;-)
Are you ready for some multi-tasking? Good! Then let's begin!
I started by boiling some water to prepare my polenta (and sauce) with, and whilst that was warming, finely chopped an onion, a clove of garlic, about one third of a carrot, half a stick of celery, a handful of parsley and the same of oregano. I put half of the onion into a bowl, along with a good handful of ground mixed beef and pork, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of bread crumbs. I added a little of the parsley, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of finely grated Parmesan and mixed it through thoroughly. Once it was mixed, I formed it into tiny meatballs- just big enough for one bite. Yum, yum, yum!
Ok- the meatballs went into a non-stick frying pan, with no extra fat, and as soon as they began sizzling and I had flipped them over a couple of times, I added all of the other ingredients... and started my polenta off at the same time. For this generous serving here, I used 4 tablespoons of polenta- remember, it will become maybe 4 times larger in volume by the time it has finished cooking! So, in a small saucepan, I had about 2 coffee mugs full of boiling water, to which I added the polenta and in the frying pan, the meatballs and finely chopped vegetables or "sofritto", which would become the base of my tomato sauce... so far so good!
As soon as the polenta began to thicken, I added salt, pepper and grated nutmeg, then reduced the heat to a gentle simmer. Back to the meatballs- as soon as they were brown and the vegetables glistening and translucent, I added 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. After stirring it in well, I deglazed the pan with a splash or red wine, a splash of boiling water and the seasoning- salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, some grated nutmeg and a little peperoncino or cayenne. Stirred the polenta! Stirred the meatballs! You can't be walking away from this one- but it wont take that long to finish... I promise!
By now, the meatballs and sauce were very thick, but the sauce was also very intense and rich, so I added enough water to cover the surface of the frying pan and stirred again, so that the sauce thinned out and the meatballs could simmer away. I reduced the heat and stirred the polenta! It shouldn't actually stick... but better to be safe than sorry!
About 5 minutes later, the sauce had reduced down and was verging on being too thick again- so I added more hot water, stirred it in and let it simmer and reduce down again. And yes- I stirred the polenta!
5 minutes later, I added about 2 tablespoons of finely grated Parmesan to the polenta, with a little splash of milk and a little olive oil. I stirred it in well until it had been completely integrated and was lovely and smooth. I added a last hint of nutmeg and was ready to serve up my polenta! And of course the meatballs and sauce followed suite!
I garnished my dish with a chiffonade of basil- made by placing a couple of large basil leaves inside of each other, rolling them up and cutting them into fine shreds using a very sharp knife... and some grated salted ricotta- which just happens to be my personal favorite ;-)
Some coarsely ground black pepper and I was finito! And hungry! But happy! This was going to be a great dinner!