It is a good idea to keep some cornmeal, canned tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese on hand so you can put this polenta together on a moments notice. Puttanesca sauce is a robust, brazen tomato sauce (puttana means whore) and it balances the subtle flavor of the polenta nicely.

SERVES 4

SAUCE

в…“ cup olive oil

8 cloves garlic, minced

Вј teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

2 large green bell peppers, cored and cut into ВЅ-inch strips

Two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained

1ВЅ tablespoons tomato paste

10 imported black olives (1ВЅ ounces, preferably kalamata), pitted and halved

2 teaspoons capers

ВЅ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

POLENTA

4 cups water

1Вј cups cornmeal (either coarse or regular)

ВЅ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits

в…“ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  1. In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute, or just until the garlic begins to get golden and the oil is fragrant. Be careful not to burn it.
  2. Add the green peppers and saut for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the drained tomatoes, tomato paste, olives, capers, salt, and pepper. Cook until the peppers are tender and the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently.
  4. Meanwhile, make the polenta. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan bring the water to a boil. Very slowly drizzle in the cornmeal, whisking continuously with a wire whisk all the while it is being sprinkled in. Add the salt and reduce the heat to low. Continue to whisk the polenta until a thick mass develops. (At this point it is better to switch to a wooden spoon.) Stir continuously until the polenta pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. To serve, spoon equal portions of the polenta onto the center of each serving plate. Top with bits of butter and sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese. Finally top with the sauce. Serve immediately.

NOTE: If for some reason the polenta cannot be served immediately and it begins to harden in the saucepan, add a small amount of water and, over low heat, whisk the polenta until it is smooth and hot.