2-3 tbs. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pound Italian sausage (sweet and/or hot), casings removed
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
1½ tbsp. balsamic vinegar
¼ cup Zanon Zinfandel
¼ cup finely chopped basil leaves
½ tsp. whole fennel seed
1 8 oz. container of fresh sliced mushrooms (optional)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1¼ cups polenta (not quick-cooking)
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish


Heat the olive oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high; add sausage and cook, breaking it into small pieces with a wooden spoon until browned, @5 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, @5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add tomatoes and mushrooms (optional) and boil; simmer until thick, 30-40 minutes. Add basil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and keep warm.

When sauce is nearly ready, bring salt and 5 cups water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan; slowly add polenta and cook, stirring constantly, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and creamy, @8 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter, 1⁄2 cup parmesan, and kosher salt. Divide between bowls and top with ragout; garnish with more parmesan.

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.

Start to finish: 45-50 minutes
Makes 4 servings