Rustic, but not simple, as it gets and so very satisfying. The combination of tender polenta and some sort of saucy meat is a classic. This one, based on a recipe from the book Hello! My Name is Tasty (I’m loving this book and I wrote about it previously here), is an excellent example of this combination.
The sugo is an Italian sauce usually meaty and usually in my experience on the thinner side. This one is based on a few different proteins. First I cooked down a bunch of bacon pieces to render lots of the fat and get the bacon a bit browned. In the rendered fat I seared a large hunk of pork shoulder. The the same is repeated for boneless chicken thighs in the pork fat.
I added chopped up onions, carrots and celery to the pan along with some sage and some spices- a small piece of cinnamon and a couple of cloves. To that I add the canned San Marzano tomatoes and a few cups of whey. Yes, whey. If you have a restaurant or two and you make cheese -like the folks from the Tasty restaurants do- then it makes sense to waste as little as possible. So the recipe for the sugo uses the whey left over from making cheese as the liquid. It is a bit tangy, it is delicious and makes a lot of sense in this rich sauce. I also love the addition of the spices. They by no means overwhelm but stay in the background adding warmth and edge.
I like to cook these types of dishes in a clay pot if I have the time. So all the stuff went into a large Colombian Champa pot and into the oven for a few hours. When it was done and cooled I put it in the fridge overnight. The next day the thick layer of fat on top is removed and the meat gets shredded by hand. I gently reheated the sugo and adjusted the seasoning.
Now that the sugo is done it can be tossed with pasta, used in a lasagna (I did exactly that with the leftovers actually) or as a perfect comforting topping for polenta as I did here. I cooked the polenta in the oven as I usually do, ratio of about 1 to 4 polenta to water. It cooks gently for about an hour with minimal stirring and stirred in Parmesan and butter in the end.
To assemble the plates I put in a ladle of soft polenta in oven-proof bowl and topped it with the sugo and a couple of slices of fresh mozzarella. These go in a hot oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese, then they are served piping hot with a sunny side up egg. It’s a deliciously warm and comforting plate of food with great mix of flavors and textures.