This meal was a great discovery for me- the realization that I can incorporate one of my favorite foods (cheese grits) into an Italian dinner, posing it as the ever so fancy "polenta" which is in fact the same thing as grits. (NOT the same as your instant grits however) I love cheese grits for breakfast, and they pair nicely with shrimp, or jambalaya, but somehow I've missed the delciousness of polenta in my Italian cooking. It turned out savory and creamy, the perfect pair with the sweet tomato sauce and rich porcini, rosemary, ground beef meatballs. This recipe is bound to turn any grits-hater into a polenta lover! Not to mention how easy the meatballs are to make- broiled and then finished off in the tomato sauce. No slaving over a pan and worrying about evenly browning the meatballs, OR having to clean up the greasy mess afterward. All in all, this was a definite winner! Recipe adapted from Serious Eats.
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 lb ground beef (or turkey)
1/4 cup bread crumbs*
2 tablespoons milk*
1 1/4 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus one whole stem
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 jar of tomato sauce- about 3 cups
1 1/2 cups dry polenta
2 tablespoons butter
*Note- I forgot to add the bread crumbs and milk when I made these and they turned out fine. But who's to say it wouldn't make them better? I'll try it out next time...
Bring one cup of water to a boil, add the mushrooms with a pinch of salt, cover, and remove from heat. Let them steep for 15-20 minutes and then drain, reserving the liquid for the tomato sauce. Chop up the mushrooms finely and reserve.
In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, milk, 1/4 cup cheese, chopped rosemary, 2 tablespoons parsley, garlic, and olive oil. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Add half of the porcini mushrooms, and gently mix well until just combined.
Form the meat mixture into balls, about 1 1/2-2 inches in diameter. I made 20 total, but it doesn't matter how many you make as long as they are pretty much the same size. Set your oven to broil (high, if it gives you the option), and meanwhile bring 5 cups of water to a boil with 1 teaspoon salt, for the polenta. Place the meatballs on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and broil for 8-10 minutes.
While the meatballs are broiling, combine the porcini liquid, remaining mushrooms and parsley, whole rosemary stem, and tomato sauce in a pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. The porcini liquid adds an additional dimension of flavor to the sauce, along with the fresh rosemary.
When the meatballs are done broiling, remove them from the oven and add directly to the sauce to finish cooking. This will also allow them to soak up some of the delicious sauce and stay juicy. Taste the sauce and add more seasoning to your liking. I ended up throwing in some red pepper flakes to balance out the sweetness. Keep the pot uncovered to reduce the sauce down a bit.
When the polenta water comes to a boil, whisk in the dry polenta, cover and simmer, stirring pretty often with the whisk to avoid clumping. It should thicken up pretty nicely in about 15-20 minutes. Add the butter and remaining shredded cheese, and taste for additional salt and pepper.
Serve the polenta in bowls, topped with the meatballs and sauce. Garnish with additional rosemary and/or more cheese and serve hot.