When it comes to comfort food potatoes take the crown. Don’t fight it. However they don’t exactly offer up their comfort in a hurry. If you want to be wrapped up in the blissful melatonin-inducing state a bowl of buttery cheesy mash offers, you’ve gotta go to a fair amount of effort. Peeling, boiling and mashing potatoes can take up to 40 mins. Not ideal when you are feeling tender.
So I offer the next best solution: Polenta. Not in a bid to steal the crown from potatoes but as an alternative for when you need edible comfort fast.
I was introduced to the joys (and speediness) of polenta via The Chiappa Sisters, who suggest serving it with meatballs rather than pasta, and I’ve found that everything about this dish is designed to bring comfort.
To start with, creamy polenta, spicy tomato sauce and crisp meatballs are a winning combo because the flavours & textures compliment each other perfectly. It’s grown up nursery food at its best because the flavours and textures don’t jar with one another. Finally (and always a winner in my book), it can be eaten with a spoon and from a bowl. So if you are deft enough to balance said bowl on a cushion under your chin, you leave the other hand free to hold the remote control to telly surf. Perfect.
Meatballs & Cheesy Polenta
Now I have played around with the Chiappa’s recipe a little, primarily to suit my portion preferences, but you can see their full recipe here. I always make a double batch of sauce & meatballs and stash half away in the freezer to have on those nights I need dinner on the table fast. If you freeze the uncooked meatballs in 1 layer in a plastic tub, they will keep for 2-3 months. Ditto with the sauce.
This preparation means I can cut the cooking time down to approx 6-8 mins because all I need to do is microwave the sauce, fry the meatballs & make the polenta. This is fast food at its best and perfect for when I need a gastronomic cuddle.
Heat the oven to 180C. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and chop the peppers roughly the same size so they cook evenly. Then roughly chop the chilli. Add these to a roasting dish with the unpeeled garlic cloves, dried herbs and a little salt & pepper. Roast for 40 mins.
When the vegetables have cooked, remove the skins of the garlic and blend everything together until smooth but add a little drizzle of the E.V Rapeseed oil while blending (try Borderfields). Keep the sauce warm in a pot over a low heat, with the lid on, until ready to serve.
Meanwhile prepare the meatballs. Remove the skin from the sausages by scoring them lightly with a knife, discard the casings and peel away the sausage meat. Now you could use sausage meat from the butcher but this is unseasoned so you get far more flavour from sausages. Combine the sausage meat with the remaining meatball ingredients and mix with your hands to combine.
Shape into small meatballs. I like them to be larger than a walnut but smaller than a ping pong ball. They cook faster and can be eaten in 1 bite if they are smaller. Stash the meatballs in the fridge until the sauce is ready or you’re ready to cook.
Fry the meatballs on a medium-high heat, with a tiny splash of regular oil, until they are crisp.
Meanwhile add the polenta to a pot with the cold water, salt, pepper and butter. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat but whisk continuously to stop it becoming lumpy. The polenta will feel very watery and like nothing is happening so don’t be alarmed, bear with it.
When the polenta starts to bubble turn the heat down to a low-medium and continue to whisk until you start to feel it thickening. At this point you can switch to a wooden spoon. Once its thick and resembles mashed potato, remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the cheese and snipped chives.
Taste for seasoning and adjust if you need to but don’t be alarmed if it is a little bland. With the strong flavours of the sauce and meatballs, cheesy creaminess is what were looking for here.
Ladle the polenta into a shallow bowl, top with a few tablespoons of the tomato sauce & drizzle over a little of the E.V Rapeseed Oil so it forms a little pool around the edges. Pile the crispy meatballs on top and add a little scattering of grated parmesan if you like.
Now forget the dishes, grab a spoon and head over the sofa and let this little baby soothe you.