This cheddar polenta with sausage is comfort food to the max. Its creamy, cheesy texture is paired with golden brown Italian sausage and then topped with bright fresh cranberries and arugula. You’ll probably want to take a spoon directly to the skillet, and I won’t judge you for that.
Until last week, I didn’t own a cast iron skillet.
I’d walk into the Le Creuset outlet nearby once or twice a year, telling myself I would finally get one, then get to the shelf, look at the price tag, and back out.
I’m a bit weird like that; I’ll decide to buy a stove that costs almost 30 times the amount of the skillet in seconds, but spending $150 on a pan? Nope, years of procrastination when it comes to that.
Last week, I was walking down every aisle of the grocery store unsuccessfully trying to find chestnuts (they were in the potato chip aisle, in case you were wondering. Because that makes sense.) and came across the usually pathetic area of pots, pans and casserole dishes every supermarket has.
Except this time, there were cast iron skillets! These were a digit less on the price tag than the ones at Le Creuset. Honestly, I can’t imagine what Le Creuset could possibly do to their cast iron to make it cost ten times more.
And just like that, I now own a cast iron skillet and plan to make all the savory comfort foods, starting with this polenta and sausage dinner featuring cheddar cheese, cranberries, and arugula.
Why you’ll love this recipe
Ultimate comfort food: This cheddar polenta is warm, creamy, and loaded with flavors that will make you feel cozy and satisfied.
Simple recipe with big flavors: Despite its simplicity, this recipe delivers impressive flavors. The combination of savory sausage, earthy portobello mushrooms, tangy cranberries, and creamy cheddar polenta creates a variety of tastes that will leave you craving more.
Versatile and customizable: The cheesy polenta and sausage serves as a delicious base that you can easily customize to suit your preferences. Add your favorite herbs or spices, swap out the protein and vegetables or experiment with different types of cheeses to create endless variations of this dish.
Quick and easy: With just a few simple ingredients and minimal prep time, this skillet recipe is perfect for busy weeknight dinners or lazy weekends when you want a hearty and delicious meal without spending hours in the kitchen.
A crowd-pleaser: Whether you’re cooking for yourself, hosting a dinner party, or looking for a family-friendly meal, this skillet polenta with sausage will surely please everyone. Its comforting flavors and satisfying textures make it a hit for kids and adults.
Ingredient notes and substitutions
- Italian sausage: You can use any sausage you prefer, such as spicy or sweet Italian sausage, pork sausage, or even chicken sausage, for a healthier option.
- Portobello mushrooms: If you don’t have them, you can substitute them with cremini mushrooms or any other variety you enjoy.
- Butter: Feel free to use olive or any other cooking oil instead of butter.
- Polenta: If you don’t have polenta on hand, you can use cornmeal as a substitute. The texture may be slightly different, but it will still be delicious.
- Chicken broth: Chicken stock, vegetable broth or water can all be used instead of chicken broth.
- Sage leaves: If you’re not a fan of sage, you can use other herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, or basil, to add flavor to the polenta.
- Sharp white cheddar cheese: Any type of cheese that melts well, such as parmesan cheese, fontina, or mozzarella, can be substituted for cheddar cheese.
- Cranberries: Dried cranberries can be used instead of fresh cranberries, or you can try using other dried fruits like cherries and raisins for a different flavor profile.
Feel free to experiment with different ingredients and substitutions to make this recipe your own.
How to make skillet polenta with sausage
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage to the skillet, breaking it up with a spatula as it cooks. Add the mushroom slices to the pan when the sausage is half cooked.
Continue cooking until the sausage is browned on all sides, and the mushrooms have cooked and shrunk down in size by about half. Transfer the mixture to a plate and set aside.
With the skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter to the pan. Pour the polenta into the skillet once the butter is melted, and then slowly stir in the broth. Whisk continuously to get rid of any lumps until the polenta has thickened. This will only take a few minutes if using quick-cooking polenta.
Once thickened, stir in the sage and cheddar cheese, then top with the sausage and mushroom mixture. Scatter the cranberries on top, then transfer the skillet to the broiler for about 3-5 minutes until the cranberries start to “pop.”
Remove from the broiler and serve topped with some fresh arugula if desired.
Recipe tips and tricks
Complex flavors: Feel free to add freshly ground black pepper or your favorite pepper blend. If you want to incorporate red peppers into this recipe, you can slice them thinly and sauté them with the portobello mushrooms for a pop of color and a slightly sweet flavor. You can also season the polenta and sausage mixture with more salt to enhance the flavors.
Bring the heat: If you prefer some heat in your dish, sprinkle red pepper flakes into the skillet when cooking the sausage and mushrooms to give it a spicy kick. Or use minced jalapeño peppers.
Touch of acidity: You can include diced tomatoes, tomato paste or a splash of balsamic vinegar for a touch of acidity. Simply add them to the skillet when cooking the sausage and mushrooms, or incorporate them into the polenta for a richer tomato flavor.
Get creative: If you like Mediterranean flavors, add some dried oregano to the polenta for an aromatic twist. You can also sprinkle some oregano over the finished dish for added herbal notes.
Creamy polenta: To make the polenta even creamier, you can substitute a portion of the chicken broth with heavy cream. Just be mindful of the texture and adjust the amount of liquid as needed to achieve your desired consistency.
What meat goes best with polenta?
When the polenta is made creamy, similar to the texture of mashed potatoes, it’s perfect for topping with any ragu sauce like Instant Pot bolognese. When it’s made into polenta cakes or cooked in a skillet like this recipe, toppings can be more versatile.
Is polenta just cornmeal?
Polenta and cornmeal are very similar, but there’s a distinct difference: polenta is made from a specific type of corn called flint corn. It’s also ground to a finer and more consistent size than cornmeal or grits.
There are two types of polenta found in stores: quick-cooking and traditional. Quick cooking polenta has been par-cooked, so it only takes a few minutes on the stovetop, whereas traditional polenta will take about 45 minutes to cook fully.
Polenta is also sometimes referred to as cornmeal mush. Because polenta, grits and cornmeal all come from corn, they’re naturally gluten-free carbohydrates that are a great alternative to pasta and other grains. It even makes a delicious breakfast alternative to farina.
More skillet meals to try:
Pork and Cabbage Skillet — This skillet dinner features an Asian twist to an easy meal ready in less than 30 minutes.
Dandelion Greens + Beans Skillet — Keep dinner meat-free with this hearty bean and vegetable skillet meal.
Greek Shrimp Skillet — Seafood doesn’t need to be complicated. This shrimp skillet can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.
Ground Beef and Sweet Potato Skillet — Hearty and easy, this is a great dinner to make when you’ve got a pound of ground beef on hand.
If you make and love this recipe, please leave a ★★★★★ review below! I’d love to know how it goes. Leave a comment below if you have any questions. Tag @runningtothekitchen on Instagram & Facebook.
Skillet Cheddar Polenta with Sausage
- 1/2 pound bulk Italian sausage
- 2 large portobello mushroom caps sliced
- 1/2 tablespoon butter
- 2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta
- 1 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoons chopped sage
- 1/4 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup cranberries
- arugula for garnish optional
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the sausage to the skillet, breaking up with a spatula as it cooks.
- When the sausage is half way cooked, add the mushroom slices to the pan.
- Cook until the sausage is cooked through and the mushrooms have cooked/shrunk down in size by about half. Transfer to a dish and set aside.
- Continue to heat the skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the butter to the skillet to melt.
- Add the polenta to the skillet once the butter is melted.
- Slowly stir in the broth and whisk until the polenta is thickened, about 2-3 minutes.
- Once thickened, stir in the sage and cheddar.
- Top with the sausage and mushroom mixture and scatter the cranberries on top.
- Transfer the skillet to the broiler for about 3-5 minutes until the cranberries start to “pop”.
- Remove from the broiler and serve topped with some fresh arugula if desired.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.
Gina Matsoukas is the writer, founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.