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Polenta Crostini with Sausage Topping

Polenta Crostini with Sausage Topping
These hearty appetizers use bite-size pieces of crispy polenta, instead of toasted baguette slices, to hold a savory sausage topping. After the polenta is cooked on the stovetop, it is poured into a baking pan and allowed to stand until firm. Then the polenta is cut into pieces, brushed with melted butter and broiled until crispy.

Ingredients:

For the polenta:

  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup slow-cooking polenta
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  •  
  • 2 fresh pork, chicken or turkey sausages,
     about 1/2 lb. total, casings removed
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 can (14 oz.) diced plum tomatoes with juice
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more,
     to taste
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh basil
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

To make the polenta, in a heavy saucepan over high heat, combine the stock, milk and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the polenta in a slow, thin stream, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to very low. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon every 1 to 2 minutes until the grains of polenta have softened, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese and remove from the heat.

Rinse an 8-by-12-inch baking pan with cold water and shake it dry. Mound the hot polenta in the pan and, using a spatula repeatedly dipped in very hot water, spread the polenta into a layer a little less than 1/2 inch thick. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Heat a large nonstick or cast-iron fry pan over medium heat. Add the sausages and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, until no trace of pink remains, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a double thickness of paper towels to drain. Discard any fat from the pan and wipe out with a paper towel.

Return the pan to medium heat and warm the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, salt and the 1/4 tsp. pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is quite thick, about 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaf, stir in the sausage and the basil, and keep warm while you brown the polenta.

Preheat a broiler. Cut the polenta into 32 pieces. In batches if necessary, transfer the pieces to a broiler pan and brush the tops with half of the melted butter. Season with pepper.

Place under the broiler about 3 inches from the heat source and broil until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn and brush the other sides with the remaining butter and broil until golden, about 4 minutes more.

Transfer the polenta pieces to a platter and top each with a small dollop of the warm sausage topping. Serve immediately. Makes 32 warm bites.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Hors d'Oeuvre, by Brigit L. Binns (Simon & Schuster, 2001).