Molto Mario really was a great show. What's not to like about a younger Mario Batali flying around the kitchen saying intelligent and exuberant things about how great Italian food could be? The episodes recently appeared on Hulu.com to stream for free (in the U.S., at least), and I've been devouring them one by one. Batali's signature high-heat, controlled-chaos approach to the kitchen is invigorating.
I pulled this recipe from one episode in which he manages to grind, season, and stuff a pile of pork sausages while also cooking a delicious pepper ragu in half an hour. I made it a little easier on myself, not to mention you, by purchasing some good-quality sausages and using them instead (if you can find the ones with the diameter of a hot dog, made with sheep casings, even better). The ragu is a rich, concentrated sauce made of peppers, red onion, and tomato paste that's caramelized in the pan to create maximum flavor. For the quickness of this recipe, it's hard to beat how flavorful it really is. I served it over polenta to catch all the delicious juices.
Pork Sausages with Pepper Ragu
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
- 3 pounds pork Italian sausage, preferably in sheep casings
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 5 red and 5 yellow bell peppers, seeded, cored and cut into 1/2-inch strips
- 1 tablespoons red chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 can tomato paste
- 1 cup dry red wine
Heat the 4 cups of water and salt in a separate saucepan of at least 3 quarts. Once boiling, whisk in the cornmeal in a slow stream, continuing to whisk vigorously until it's all added. Continue cooking and whisking until it's too thick to whisk, then switch to a wooden spoon. Cook over low heat, stirring occassionally, until the polenta is soft and thick, about the time to prepare the rest of the recipe. More water may be added if the polenta is too thick.
In a very large frying pan (12 or 14 inches) heat 6 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, peppers, chili flakes and oregano, and cook until soft, 8-10 minutes. Spoon in the tomato paste and stir into the vegetables. Cook until its color darkens, being careful not to burn it. Add the red wine, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for at additional 15 minutes.
In a second large skillet large enough to hold the sausages comfortable, heat the last tablespoon of oil over medium heat. When it is shimmering, add the sausages and cook without turning until the underside is dark golden, 7-10 minutes. Carefully turn the sausages and add the pepper mixture to the pan. Add a cup of water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes, adding water if necessary to keep the consistency of a ragu.
If desired, stir in the Parmesan and butter into the polenta, then divide among shallow bowls. Top with the ragu and serve.