I’ve written many times about the important of balancing flavor. The best recipes incorporate elements of salty, sweet, bitter, acid and umami. Another important aspect of a dish to consider is texture. For better or worse, the texture of what we eat can greatly affect our enjoyment of food. In The Babbo Cookbook, Mario Batali states that “the single word ‘crispy’ sells more food than a barrage of adjectives.” This sweet Italian sausage with kale and polenta has a wonderful balance of both flavor and texture. The polenta is both creamy and granular, the kale is tender yet toothsome, and the sausage is crisp and caramelized on the outside for a truly satisfying meal.
I’ve used Al Fresco All Natural Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage as the main component of the recipe. It’s got a wonderful spice level to it, and it browns up beautifully. It’s made with chicken as opposed to pork, making it less fatty than some of the other brands. Because the polenta is a bit rich and I’ve also used some olive oil, I think this balanced out quite nicely. I’ve noted in the instructions that you can add a splash of water during the browning process if looks like there’s a chance that the bottom of the pan might burn. Try to keep the water to a minimum. Too much water will decrease the crispiness of the sausage.
As you’ll see in the instructions, I recommend blanching the kale in boiling water for 60 seconds. I know some people might prefer to simply sauté it, but I find that this step really improves the texture. It’s much more tender in the final dish.
I’ve used a small amount of crushed red pepper, not enough to add a substantial level of heat to the dish. You can add more or omit it completely depending on personal preference.
- 3 cups chicken stock, either homemade or low sodium
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
- 1 cup polenta corn grits
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 cups torn kale leaves
- 1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 Al Fresco Sweet Italian Style Chicken Sausage Links
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- In a dutch oven or large heavy-bottom saucepan, bring the stock, water, salt and pepper to a boil over high heat.
- Slowly whisk in the polenta and reduce the heat to low. Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes.
- Stir in the butter, taste, and add additional salt and pepper if desired. Cover and set aside. (Note: the polenta can be made 24 hours in advance. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat in the last step of the recipe).
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water nearby. When the water reaches a boil, add the kale leaves and cook for 60 seconds, then transfer to the ice bath to halt the cooking process. Drain the kale and set aside.
- Cut the sausage into approximately ½ inch slices. Heat a large nonstick skillet or sautoir over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Brown the sausage on each side for several minutes (the more caramelized the sausage, the better the flavor in the final dish will be). If at any point the bottom of the pan looks like it might burn, add 1-2 tablespoons of water, scrape up the glaze and incorporate it into the sausage. When the sausage is browned, remove from the pan and set aside.
- Turn the heat down to low and add the remaining ½ tablespoon olive oil, the garlic, and the crushed red pepper. Allow the garlic to cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute, and then add the kale to the pan. Stir to coat the kale with the seasoned oil in the pan. Add the sausage back to the pan and allow it to reheat for a few minutes if it has cooled down.
- Reheat the polenta over low heat, stirring, if necessary. Serve the sausage and kale over the polenta.