I’m often asked what I like to cook. And at this point, I should have a decent answer. But I don’t. Because it doesn’t really matter what it is I’m cooking, aside from the dishes, I tend to enjoy myself. It’s one of my few creative outlets and I rarely see hanging out in my kitchen with food in hand and a podcast playing in the background, as a chore.
I can tell people are not satisfied when I tell them I like to cook just about anything. The best I can do is share a recent recipe, or more often than not, direct them to this column. Yet, as the seasons start to change and I think about what I’m looking forward to, I realized that I could talk about the typical meal I might cook this time of year: sausages with cabbage and polenta. By no means is it my favorite meal, and it’s not all that challenging to prepare, but it broadly answers the question of what you could find me cooking on a fall evening. It’s my idea of fall comfort food for a weekday night.
I’ve learned to keep a package of sausage in the freezer at all times. It cooks quickly and can be prepared in a variety of ways, everything from the grill to the oven. When I don’t want to eat them as links, I cut the casings off and break up the meat for all kinds of new uses. In other words, they’re versatile, quick cooking and relatively affordable. One of my favorite kinds is the red wine and garlic from Vermont Salumi, found locally at the Rutland Co-op.
It’s a similar story for the other ingredients that make up this meal. Cabbage is always cheap, either red or green, it doesn’t matter. And it keeps in the fridge longer than most other vegetables. Come fall, I always have apples on hand, as I imagine most of us do. The crunch of the cabbage and the soft sweetness of the apple is an excellent pairing. As warming spices, cloves and juniper make for ideal fall seasonings, though you could leave them out or use ground versions, if you have them.
Polenta gets a bad wrap as being overly time consuming. I’ve never had that experience, but perhaps I’m doing something wrong. I do enjoy pumpkin and winter squash, just not the pumpkin spice nonsense. I stock up when cans or packages of pumpkin purée go on sale about now. From soup to polenta, there are plenty of places to add in some squash purée and beef up the nutritional value. On the other hand, some days I might cut up and roast some winter squash instead of bothering with the polenta.
Another thing I enjoy about these recipes and much of my fall cooking, is finally putting to use the woodier herbs from my garden I hardly touched all summer. That includes thyme, sage and rosemary. If I had to pick, I’d take them over basil any day. But basil is needy, requiring constant picking all summer long, leaving many other herbs forgotten until now.
Broiled sausages, with braised cabbage and apple and a pumpkin sage polenta
For the cabbage:
- 1 medium cabbage, about 2 pounds
- 2 medium apples
- about 5 sprigs of thyme
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves
- 3 juniper berries (optional)
- 1/2 cup cider, beer, wine or broth
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
For the polenta:
- 2 ½ cups milk
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup pumpkin purée
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 5 large sage leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup grated Parm
- 4 sausage links
- mustard, for serving
Prep the ingredients for the cabbage and polenta. Start by cutting out the tough core of the cabbage and roughly chopping the leaves. Core and chop the apple. Slide the leaves off of the thyme stems. Smash the juniper berries with the back of your knife and finely chop the sage leaves for the polenta.
Heat a large pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil, cloves and juniper berries. When the oil is hot, add in the cabbage and stir to coat in the oil. Reduce the heat to low, loosely cover and allow to cook about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the cabbage cooks, start heating the milk and water, along with the salt, in a medium pot over high heat. Just don’t wander to far, as the milk can potentially boil over. When at a boil, add the pumpkin purée, cornmeal and sage leaves and reduce the heat to medium low. Whisk to combine the ingredients, then grab a spoon for the occasional stir. Allow to cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. While it doesn’t need constant stirring, you do want to make sure the polenta doesn’t start sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Place the sausages on a baking sheet and lightly drizzle with the olive oil. Place in the oven under the broiler. Broil, about 12 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through.
Remove the cover from the cabbage and add the chopped apple, thyme leaves, liquid of your choosing and salt. Continue cooking, about 10 minutes or so, until the liquid has cooked off. When done, add in the vinegar and set aside until ready to serve.
When the polenta has thickened up and tastes creamy and cooked through, stir in the butter and cheese and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning as you like.
When everything is ready, plate the cabbage, polenta and sausage. Add some mustard on the side and serve.