Sausage & Polenta

Sausage, peppers and onions in tomato sauce over polenta.

Today seemed like the perfect day for posting this recipe. Fall weather has arrived in Cincinnati (for the time being–we’ll hit the 80s again next week) and MasterChef just wrapped up its fourth season in the US. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t been watching, but suffice it to say that my favorite won! And I’m very much looking forward to the cookbook.

This recipe was inspired by the sausage challenge on this season of MasterChef. Contestants got a sausage grinder, a huge selection of proteins and 60 minutes to create a custom sausage and make it into a complete dish. One of the top three dishes was made by Krissi and featured her spicy Italian sausage with peppers and onions on top of polenta and some sort of broth. The judges loved it, and it looked delicious. (Krissi was painted as the “villain” of this season, but whether or not that’s a creation of video editing, she certainly held her own in the kitchen.)

Here’s my attempt at re-creating the dish with storebought sausage and a tomato-y sauce in place of the broth. I used Johnsonville Italian chicken sausages, which are pre-cooked and simply need to be reheated. If you’re using raw sausages, you may want to saute them separately or for a longer time to make sure they’re cooked through.

Sausage & Polenta

Serves 4



  • 1 cup cornmeal or polenta
  • 4 cups water + 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • Black pepper

Sausage and Peppers

  • 1 sweet (Vidalia) onion, sliced into wedges
  • 2 bell peppers (any color), sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup dry wine (white and red work equally well in this recipe)
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 Italian sausages (I used Johnsonville Three-Cheese Italian-Style Chicken Sausage)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (I used a roasted garlic marinara–you may need more seasonings if you use a plain sauce)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine the cornmeal, water, milk and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir with a whisk, reduce heat, cover and simmer on low at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the grains to become soft and tender, and the whole mixture to reach the thickness of mashed potatoes.(Note: This polenta preparation is a departure from the Shrimp & Grits recipe–and it’s better! You will have far fewer lumps when you start with everything combined together. I promise!)
  2. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pot with a lid over medium-low heat. Add the onions and don’t stir until they start to turn translucent and caramelize a bit on the bottom–about 5-10 minutes. Stir and continue to cook until soft.
  3. Push the onions to the side of the pan and add the sausages. Sear each sausage for a  few minutes.
  4. Add the wine and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
  5. Add the garlic, red pepper to taste, and the sliced bell peppers. Stir once, cover and cook about 3-5 minutes or until the peppers begin to soften.
  6. Add the chicken broth, tomato sauce and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and ppper to taste. Simmer over low heat 3-5 minutes (you can cover the pan and continue to simmer until the polenta is done, if needed). Unfortunately I didn’t snap a picture of this step!
  7. Check the polenta and stir throughout. When the grains are cooked and the mixture has reached your desired consistency, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the butter until absorbed. Stir in the Parmesan until melted and season with black pepper.
  8. Pour polenta into bowls or soup plates (or Tupperware if you have more than you’ll eat right away). Top with sausage and peppers, and spoon sauce over top. Enjoy!

This dish is warm, a little spicy and very filling! Just the perfect fall meal.

If you make more than you need right away like I did, here are some reheating tips:

  • Store polenta and sausage separately.
  • Place cold polenta in a microwave-safe bowl and break it up with a spoon. Add a splash of water and microwave for 1-2 minutes. Stir and continue to microwave until it comes together again. (Or, reheat in a saucepan over low heat on the stove with a bit of water added.)
  • Add the sausage mixture to the polenta bowl when it is warm, and heat another 1-2 minutes until hot. (Or heat it separately and combine.)

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