Italian Sausage-Pepper Ragu with Polenta is a delicious meal that you can pull off on a weeknight. Done in under an hour!
Winter: just STOP!
It’s -11° outside. I don’t know your feelings on the matter, but this Winter stuff has gone on quite long enough. By this time of the year, I’m getting downright sick of it. Especially considering that our first major snow dump happened before Halloween.
Times like this require heavy doses of emergency comfort food. Italian Sausage-Pepper Ragu with Polenta fits that bill perfectly. It’s budget friendly, but brings a meal-at-a-fancy-restaurant ambience to the weeknight dinner.
This is my spin on an Italian classic, which means that it’s not authentic. For one, I add fish sauce to the dish. Before you throw your computer out the window in disgust: you don’t have to use it. You don’t actually taste the fish sauce, per se. It simply adds a layer of umami, which is why I use the stuff in just about everything. I also use canned tomato products, which is a must in Winter as far as I’m concerned.
How to make Italian Sausage-Pepper Ragu with Polenta
The sausage-pepper ragu
Here’s what you’ll need for the sausage-pepper ragu:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Italian sausage links: we like hot, but you can use mild or even sweet. You can use pork or turkey.
- 1 sweet onion, sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- pinch of pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 sweet bell peppers, sliced
- Asian fish sauce (optional!)
- 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 can tomato sauce
- red wine (something robust, like a cabernet sauvignon)
- coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
First, brown the sausages on 2 sides and remove to a plate. Sauté the onions and garlic, then add the peppers. Continue to sauté until soft. (This is a perfect time to start the polenta—see below). Next, add the fish sauce (if using), then turn the heat to high and add the wine, scraping skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits (a.k.a. fond) on the bottom. Return the sausages to the skillet along with any accumulated juices. Mix in the diced tomatoes, sauce, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Check the seasoning, adjusting as needed.
Making the polenta
I think it’s the polenta that makes this meal so comforting. It’s so easy to make. All you need are polenta corn grits, coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and water. I also like to add Romano cheese and a sprinkling of flat-leaf parsley to serve. To prepare the polenta, bring 2 cups of water to a boil and reduce the heat to medium. Whisk in 1 cup of polenta corn grits until completely combined, then mix in 1 cup of cold water. Add 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper; reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally. After about 25 minutes, when the polenta is soft, add 1 tbsp Romano cheese and 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with the sausage-pepper ragu on the side.
Be sure to check out my video in the recipe card below!
Can I make sausage-pepper ragu in advance?
Absolutely! As with so many sauces, soups, and stews, this one is even better the day after. The flavors deepen deliciously. Make the sauce, but hold off garnishing with parsley (until you’re ready to serve). Simply reheat in a skillet on medium-low. You can make the polenta in advance as well: simply heat it up in the microwave at 50% power, stirring every 2 minutes, until heated through.
You can also meal-prep the vegetables to save time.
What do I do with the leftovers?
As I mentioned earlier, the sauce is even better the second (and third!) day. You can eat it the same way, with polenta on the side. Or, slice up any remaining sausages and serve the sauce tossed with a pasta like penne or farfalle. The sausages are also fantastic on grinders with some of the pepper sauce on top. As far as the polenta, you can make little cakes with the leftovers and fry them up. Serve with a fried egg over the top for a quick-but-fancy breakfast!
I hope your family loves this extra-special dose of Italian comfort food. Stay warm!
If you love Italian-inspired comfort food, check out my Lasagna Bolognese, Baked Lasagna Bowls, or Vegan Pantry Marinara Sauce. For good old comfort food in general, try Creamy One-Pot Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese, One-Pot Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese, or One-Pot Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff. Check out my Comfort Food recipe collection for even more!
Italian Sausage-Pepper Ragu with Polenta
- Large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven with lid.
FOR THE SAUSAGE-PEPPER RAGU
- 1 tbsp olive oil - extra virgin
- 1 lb Italian sausage links - hot or mild
- 1 sweet onion - sliced
- 2 tbsp garlic - minced
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes - (optional)
- 2 sweet bell peppers - sliced
- 1/2 tbsp Asian fish sauce - (optional; see Recipe Note #1)
- 1/2 cup red wine - see Recipe Note #2
- 14 oz canned diced tomatoes - drained
- 14 oz tomato sauce
FOR THE POLENTA
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup polenta corn grits
- 1/4 tsp coarse salt - (or to taste)
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley - chopped
- 1/4 cup Romano cheese - grated
FOR THE PEPPER-SAUSAGE RAGU
- Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the sausages on 2 sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
- Saute the onions and garlic until translucent, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, start the polenta (see below). Add the peppers and crushed pepper flakes (if using); saute until soft, about 5 additional minutes. Add the fish sauce (if using; see Recipe Note #1). Turn the heat to high and add the wine, scraping skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen any fond on the bottom. Return the sausages to the skillet. Add the diced tomatoes and sauce.
- Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Check the sauce for seasoning, adjusting as needed. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and serve with the polenta.
FOR THE POLENTA
- Bring 2 cups water to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Vigorously whisk in 1 cup polenta corn grits. When completely combined, whisk in 1 cup of cold water. Add salt and pepper; reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally. After ~25 minutes, when polenta is soft, add 1 tbsp Romano cheese and 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
- The fish sauce adds salty umami in the background. You won't taste fish. If you are not using fish sauce, add 1/4 tsp salt to the sauce.
- Use a full-bodied red like cabernet sauvignon—good enough to enjoy a glass with your dinner.