Otherwise known as: how I learned to stop worrying and eat tomato sauce. I'm not really one for tomato sauce... something about the fact that it always goes moldy if it comes from a jar and is always too sloshy if its made from tomatoes.
Also, this dish gives me an excuse to push polenta, the heartiest, easiest grainy-side dish ever... even (especially?) the non-instant kind.
First, let's make some TOMATO SAUCE. Maybe you already know how to do this because your loving grandmother in Umbria showed you how... I had to look it up in How to Cook Everything, so sue me. But the gist is pretty easy, probably all those grandmas add is love.
1. Chop & fry an onion (in olive oil, duh. Some garlic, too.
2. Plop in some tomatoes. If they are from a big ole can, none of that extra liquid business! If they are from a vine, feel impressed with yourself. Then realize that you will need kind of a LOT of tomatoes, like 6, and squeeze out some of the liquid before you throw them in.
3. Wait until it turns into tomato sauce, squishing the tomatoes with your spoon. Add oregano, basil, salt, pepper.
Donesies. Not a pasta fan? Me either.
Let's make POLENTA.
4 cups stock or salty water or a combo
1 cup polenta
HERE'S THE THING. Apparently it takes your Umbrian grandma like an hour to cook real, creamy polenta. My polenta isn't buttery soft but it only takes me like 15 minutes to make. Time is money, if I really wanted buttery soft polenta I would just go to Arte Cafe or the late L'Impero or somewhere else I only go to during restaurant week or when its my birthday. If you use the instant kind of polenta, it's actually done the second you pour the corn into the liquid, but it is kind of bland and costs more. If you keep stirring over medium heat, it only takes cornmeal (like Goya style, should set you back 2 bucks or less) a few minutes to cook anyway.
Boil the stock. Lower the temperature.
Slowly slowly pour in the polenta (isn't this called a slurry?) and stir until it gets thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Take it off the heat sooner than you think you need to-- it'll firm up a bit on its own. Parmesan cheese and mushrooms are polenta's best friends.
If you are using the polenta to make pie or pizza or something, spread it at the bottom of an oven-proof dish or pan. Layer on lots of pasta sauce, leftover cooked veggies, whatever you your heart desires. But its delicious with just the sauce. Then cheese (mozzarella, but again, this recipe is awesome and open ended). 15 minutes at 400 should do it. If today isn't casserole day or you have the energy to actually prepare a main course, scoop the polenta under some delicious sauteed vegetables/delicious Italian sausage as a side grain. I have had polenta with sausage and broccoli rabe at a couple of restaurants and it is eminently do-at-home-able. Onward and upward!