I often find myself conflicted over many things in my life, and partake in little self dialogues. Tea or coffee? A walk in Killinthomas Woods or on the Curragh? Watch a movie or waste away playing Football Manager? One of my chief self dialogues is whether or not to cook “beautiful” food. It’s not something I have much interest in but the more I gaze at pictures of aesthetically perfect food online, the more I want to try and make my dishes look that good. It’s tough to achieve, especially when my love is for homely and comforting delights – making an oxtail stew look elegant is quite the task! Matuffi however is the type of dish that looks wonderful naturally. The deep rosewood colour of the ragu swirling among the golden polenta is instantly appealing and inviting. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise – if there’s one thing Tuscany has in abundance, it’s style.
Enough about the look of the dish. The real reason this recipe is here is because it’s warming, wholesome and utterly delicious. I adore all kinds of ragu but the addition of dried porcini really sets this one apart. Mushrooms and pork are a match made in heaven and so it proves here, with pork sausage meat replacing the usual ragu ingredient – beef. If you can’t get good Italian sausages then you can add a touch of fennel seeds with the meat. It isn’t strictly necessary but the gentle aniseed warmth does lift the ragu.
Note: Obviously “quick cook” polenta isn’t as good as the proper stuff but as I only have one hob, it is an essential ingredient for me. If you have a spare hob and some extra time you can, of course, make proper polenta – the dish will be all the better for it.
Serves 4, with leftover polenta to make polenta chips the next day!
Adapted from: La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by The Italian Academy of Cuisine.
4 tbsp Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 Onion (finely chopped)
1 Carrot (finely chopped)
1 stick of Celery (finely chopped)
generous pinch of Chilli Flakes
pinch of Dried Oregano
6 Large Sausages (skins removed)
generous pinch of Fennel Seeds (optional)
15g Dried Porcini
glass of Red Wine (preferably Chianti or Sangiovese)
Tin of Chopped Tomatoes
1 Mug of Quick Cook Polenta
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
First soak the mushrooms in hot water for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid and chop.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Season well and sweat over a low heat until soft but not coloured (about 15 minutes). Add the oregano and chilli and stir before adding the sausage meat and fennel (if using). Season and break up the sausage meat with a wooden spoon and cook for 5 minutes to colour.
Add the chopped porcini to the pan and cook for a further 10 minutes before adding the red wine. Cook off the alcohol for 5 minutes before adding the tin of tomatoes and reserved mushroom soaking liquid. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until thick. Check for seasoning.
When the ragu is almost ready, bring 4 mugs (the same mug you used to measure the polenta) of water to the boil in a saucepan. When it begins to boil, add the polenta while stirring. Cook for 3-5 minutes stirring CONSTANTLY until smooth. Season well with salt and pepper and stir in the butter.
Put 2-3 tablespoons of polenta into a bowl and spread out with the back of the spoon. Add two tablespoons of ragu and spread to 1 cm inside the edge of the polenta. Repeat a couple of times to give the swirl effect.
Oil a flat tray or large plate and place any leftover polenta onto it. Spread out so it makes a layer just 1-2cm thick. Chill in the fridge. The next day cut the set polenta into chips and put onto a baking tray. Season and drizzle over some olive oil before baking in a 200 degree oven for 20 minutes.