Swiss Chard and Asparagus Polenta

Here is a slight variation on the sausage and Swiss chard sauteé so common in our house. This recipe calls for a base of creamy polenta underneath the asparagus and Swiss chard available in such abundance this time of year. As noted below, and as recounted so memorably in Bill Buford’s Heat, the polenta only improves from a long, slow cooking time. Also, if you’re going to the trouble of making polenta, you might want to double the batch, and use it as a base for any number of sautées, polenta cakes, or the like through the rest of the week.
For the Polenta:

  • 3/4 C milk
  • 2 1/2 C water
  • Salt
  • 1 1/2 C polenta
  • 1/2 C shredded sharp cheddar cheese, preferably aged
  • 2 T butter
  • Pepper

For Vegetables and Sausage:

  • 1 bunch, Swiss chard, stems and leaves, separated and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, yellow, diced
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, bulk
  • 1 lb. asparagus, cut into 1­inch pieces
  • 1⁄4 C water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

To make polenta, combine milk and water and a pinch of salt in a medium or large saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then stir in the polenta, stirring with a whisk. Cook over medium/­low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently with a whisk, until polenta is soft and creamy and doesn’t taste gritty. If you have the time, additional cooking, up to an hour, while adding water periodically to maintain consistency, will only improve the texture.) Once done, stir in the cheese and the butter, season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, prepare chard by de­-ribbing the stems from the leaves and chopping them into 1­inch pieces. Halve lengthwise and chop leaves into 1­inch strips. Set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet, cook crumbled sausage over medium heat until done. Reserve sausage. Drain fat from the pan, deglazing if necessary and re­-add 1-­2 T of the sausage fat to the pan over medium heat.
Add the onion and sauteé, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chard stems and sauteé, stirring occasionally, until the stems are tender, 5­-7 minutes. At about the 4 minute mark, add the asparagus.
When stems are nearly done, raise heat to medium high and add the chard leaves along with a dash of water (1/4 C) Toss leaves until well­ coated and cover, cooking 3­5 minutes until the leaves are wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, mound a scoop of polenta onto a plate or a shallow soup bowl. Top with a spoonful of the chard­ asparagus mixture. If desired, grate a little additional cheddar cheese on top.

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