Oven baked polenta is a great hassle-free way to enjoy this hearty Italian side dish. This version with classic winter flavors of sage and nutmeg is comforting and aromatic, vibrant enough to serve along grilled sausages and game, subtle enough to serve with braised short ribs or osso buco. To make it even easier, substitute canned pumpkin for the butternut.
2 Tbsp butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small butternut squash (big enough to yield about 1.5 cups)
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal polenta (not instant or pre-cooked polenta)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp fresh sage chopped
1 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Squash Puree: Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds. Place cut side up on a roasting pan. Rub with 1 Tbsp butter, and place remaining butter in each cavity. Put chopped garlic in cavity with butter. Sprinkle squash with a little bit of salt. Roast cut side up 400 deg for 30-45 minutes or until tender and browned. When cool enough to handle, scoop squash out of skin, transfer to food processor bowl and puree. This can be one a day or two in advance.
Adjust oven to 350 degrees.
Polenta: Generously butter a 3-quart baking dish with 1 Tbsp butter. Combine water, salt and cornmeal in baking dish, mixing well (the mixture will separate). Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from oven; stir in butternut puree, heavy cream, pepper, nutmeg, sage, and about two-thirds of the cheese. Bake 10 minutes.
Remove from oven, top with remaining cheese, and place under the broiler for a few minutes, until top is brown and bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.