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Cherry Tomato Ragu with Polenta

This chunky ragù can also be spooned over grilled fish, chicken or pork or simply tossed with pasta. The cherry tomatoes collapse in the slow cooker but are still identifiable, which contributes to the rustic charm of the dish. To create a more refined ragù, scoop out one-fourth of the sauce and puree it in a food processor, then stir the puree back in.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 fresh oregano sprigs
  • 2 Tbs. dry white wine
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. plus 9 cups water
  • 2 1/2 lb. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or left whole if small
  • 1/2 tsp. plus 1 Tbs. salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups instant polenta
  • 3 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh basil

Directions:

In a large, heavy fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the shallots and celery and sauté until lightly golden, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and oregano sprigs and cook for 1 minute more. Pour in the wine, vinegar and the 2 Tbs. water and stir to scrape up the browned bits on the pan bottom. Transfer the contents of the pan to a slow cooker. Stir in the tomatoes, the 1/2 tsp. salt and several grinds of pepper. Cover and cook on low according to the manufacturer’s instructions for 3 to 4 hours, stirring 2 or 3 times if possible. The tomatoes should be mostly broken down and the sauce should be juicy. Remove and discard the oregano sprigs.

Just before the sauce is ready, in a saucepan over high heat, bring the 9 cups water and the 1 Tbs. salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the polenta in a slow, steady stream while whisking constantly. Cook, stirring constantly, until the polenta thickens and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 5 minutes.

Divide the soft polenta among warm shallow bowls, top each portion with a heaping spoonful of the ragù, sprinkle with the basil and serve immediately. Serves 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Slow Cooker, by Norman Kolpas (Oxmoor House, 2007).