Italian Shepherd's Pie

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My Version:
Serves 8-10

1 lb. sweet Italian Sausage meat
1 lb. "meatball mix" (ground beef, pork & veal)
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 28 oz. can crush tomato
1/4 c. chopped, fresh basil
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
2 tbs. olive oil

2 c. polenta (ground yellow corn meal)
4 c. water
4 c. milk
2 c. half & half
big pinch of salt
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large, oven safe pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the ground meat to the pan, breaking up into small pieces with a wooden spoon.  Cook until the meat is about half-way cooked through, you still want some pink spots.

Pour the crushed tomato over the meat and bring to a simmer.  Allow to cook for another 10 minutes until meat is cooked through and sauce has thickened.

Add chopped, fresh herbs and mix well. Remove filling from heat.

To make the topping, combine water, milk and half & half in a large pot and bring to a simmer.

While whisking, slowly add in polenta and salt. Continue to whisk for about 10 minutes until polenta thickens.  Add in parmesan and thyme leaves, stir again.

Pour polenta over filling in pan and spread evenly with the back of a spoon.

Baked dish for 30 minutes until the top of the polenta turns golden and edges are bubbling. Serve with a spoon in bowls -this will not hold its shape like a "pie."

Buon Appetito!

Mary Kate's Recipe:

"If you take the girl out of Jersey...she'll top her Shepherd's Pie with polenta making it extra Italian and extra comforting."

For the Filling:
2 1/2 c. tomato sauce
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper and fresh ground or minced garlic, to taste
chopped fresh herbs, to taste

For the Topping:  
1 heaping cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
4 ½ cups water
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
Splash of cream or milk

Heat the oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Lightly oil an eight-inch baking dish. 

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, squeeze the sausage from the casing directly into the skillet. Use a wooden spoon to break the sausage into half-inch pieces as it browns. 

When the sausage is cooked through, add the tomato sauce to the skillet and season it to taste with salt, pepper, and garlic. (If substituting ground meat for sausage, be generous.) When the sauce starts to bubble, lower the heat and simmer it gently until it thickens. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the mixture into the casserole dish, making sure that the sausage pieces are evenly distributed. Sprinkle with chopped herbs. Now smell! Delicious. 

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a 4-quart saucepan. Lower the heat to medium, add the polenta, and whisk to incorporate. Lower the heat slightly, add the grated cheese, and whisk again to incorporate. Cook the polenta until it is thick and soft, whisking frequently. This will take about fifteen minutes. Add the splash of cream or milk, then remove the polenta from the heat and spread it gently over the sausage and tomato sauce mixture in the casserole dish. 

Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are bubbly and the polenta is golden. Garnish with leftover herbs and serve.