Keeping it Simple

In Recipes on November 3, 2011 at 3:08 am

I’ve been reading a number of books about Italian cooking recently.  It seems pasta was and still is a basic foodstuff in most parts of Italy.  That other Italian staple, polenta, was originally only eaten in the northern parts of Italy but it has spread and is now often served as a cheap and delicious alternative to pasta on Italian tables throughout the country.  I like my polenta with lots of cheese, butter and herbs stirred in at the end.  It is even better if poured into a lined baking dish and left to set, then finished with more cheese and baked in the oven.  When serving polenta I prefer to keep the sauce light as the polenta itself is heavy enough. One of the books I have been reading is The Sicilian Kitchen by Brisbane born Michele Di’ Bartolo.  This book is as much a memoir as it is a cookbook.  The Brisbane suburb of West End, where Di’ Bartolo spent much of her time with her Nonna, appears to have been a melting pot of various ethnicities, frozen in time from the moment they left the ‘old country’.  Di’ Bartolo’s Nonna and her parents are Sicilian so this was the culture in which she was raised even though she was Australian born.  Like many cultures, food plays an enormous part in both daily life and special occasions.  By all accounts, life in Sicily was hard – the rocky terrain, the damage wrought by centuries of invasion and conquest, the relative isolation from other parts of Italy, all of these factors played a part.  The average Sicilian was often compelled to stick to a fairly simple diet merely because the options were so limited.  In some cases though, simplicity turns out of be sublime as was the case with the Sarsa Semplice (literally simple sauce) that I made to go with my polenta.

Baked Polenta with Sarsa Semplice

Sarsa Semplice


3 tbs olive oil

1 clove garlic (minced)

1 small onion (finely diced)

4-5 fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup frozen peas

2 x 400g tins of Italian tomatoes

1 tsp paprika (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy based pan.  Add the onion and garlic and fry until translucent.  Add the basil leaves, frozen peas and paprika (if using) and cook for 1 min.  Add the tomatoes, season to taste and simmer over low heat for 30 mins, stirring frequently.  Serve over pasta or polenta.

Baked Polenta


2 cups polenta

boiling water

1 cup Parmesan cheese

100g unsalted butter

3/4 cup chopped fresh basil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)


Cook polenta according to the directions on the packet.  There are two basic types of polenta – the ‘quick’ one takes about 5-10 mins to cook, the traditional one, about 30-40 mins.  It’s your choice but whichever one you are using you need to stir frequently as polenta loves to stick to the bottom of the pot.  When polenta is ready stir in 3/4  of the Parmesan cheese, 1/2 of the butter and the chopped basil, season to taste.  Pour into a lined baking dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top.  Dot with the remaining butter and bake in a 180c oven for 30-35 mins or until the top is lightly brown and the edges a bit crispy.  Serve with your favourite sauce.

  1. An outstanding share! I’ve just froawrded this onto a co-worker who has been conducting a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me breakfast simply because I stumbled upon it for him lol. So let me reword this . Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to discuss this subject here on your site.

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