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Coarse ground cornmeal is often referred to as Polenta. Actually, Polenta is the mush made from coarse ground yellow cornmeal and can also be made with other grains. Yellow corn meal is gluten-free, a complex carbohydrate, and contains protein and fiber. So, let’s go for it, and chow down on this hearty and satisfying main dish paired with an Italian red wine.

Cheesy Polenta, Egg and Sausage Casserole

2Tbl olive oil, divided

1/2 onion, finely diced

4c water, plus more as needed

1c coarse ground polenta (yellow corn meal)

1tsp salt

1c shredded Fontina or Mozzarella cheese

1c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

3/4c milk

2Tbl butter, softened

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

6-12 drops hot pepper sauce

1/4tsp ground black pepper

6oz Italian sausage, casing removed

Preheat oven to 375F.

Grease a 9 X 13 baking dish and place in oven.

Heat 1Tbl olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside in a small bowl.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a 3qt. saucepan; slowly stir in coarse cornmeal to avoid clumping. Cover pan; reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 6 minutes.

Add Fontina cheese and 1/2c Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, milk and butter to saucepan; stir until cheese and butter are melted. Add eggs, hot pepper sauce and pepper; stir well. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat the remaining 1Tbl olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add sausage. Cook sausage, stirring and breaking it into small pieces with a fork, until lightly browned and no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Drain if necessary and transfer to a cutting board; let cool. Finely chop when cool enough to handle, and then add to polenta mixture.

Pour into prepared baking dish; sprinkle with remaining 1/2c Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and puffy. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Pair this rich dish with Toccata’s 2015 Santa Barbara County Sangiovese. First planted in 900 BC, Sangiovese has a long and storied history beginning in an area of Italy now known as Tuscany. The Sangiovese grape is the most widely planted grape variety in Italy.

Fast forward to the late 1800s and 1900s when more than four million Italians immigrated to the United States bringing with them Sangiovese vines that were the basis for winemaking in California. It makes a fruity red wine with aromas of wild berries and dried herbs. Like a great Chianti, it is dry and extremely versatile when pairing with food.

In their family owned Los Alamos vineyards, Toccata has 9 acres of Sangiovese that rival the best from any region in the world. This wine is the proof enough. Enjoy!

John David Finley is a free-lance writer and author of the cookbook, Sacred Meals from our Family Table, which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at jdfinley53@outlook.com

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