Smoked Sausage Ragù is a simple way to add some smoked flavor to your next ragù sauce. Serve over creamy polenta and pair it with some delicious red wine and you’ve got yourself an awesome dinner.
There are several ways to incorporate some smoke flavor to your favorite Italian dishes, like a rich ragù sauce, without having to go through the effort of smoking your tomatoes and making everything from scratch. One simple way to add some subtle, yet delicious, flavor is to simply smoke some bulk Italian sausage and add it to your favorite tomato based sauce.
Though I will be the first to preach that it’s so ridiculously worth the effort to make a smoked marinara sauce (including smoking your tomatoes), but we’ll get into that on another day. Perhaps you’re busy and don’t have the time? I get it!
A few weeks ago I was prepping to participate in a Twitter chat/wine tasting learning about the wines of Pedroncelli – a new-to-me winery although they recently celebrated their 90th anniversary – and was asked to prepare a recipe of sausage ragù to taste alongside three of their wines for the discussion. And since we have to put a smoky twist on everything we do I decided to keep it simple and just smoke the sausage and incorporate the smoked meat into a sauce cooked on the stovetop.
What is a Ragù?
Ragù is a chunky Italian pasta sauce made with meat and tomatoes. It is very similar to a bolognese sauce. Traditionally, these sauces are paired with pasta. Today we are serving it over a creamy parmesan polenta.
What is Polenta?
Polenta is a coarse ground cornmeal, boiled and served as a porridge. Polenta is traditional to Northern Italy, but is very similar to the Southern US dish grits. The only difference being that polenta is made with yellow corn, while grits are made with white corn or hominy.
How to Smoke Sausage for Ragù
- Start with some bulk Italian sausage and break it up into quarter size pieces and lay them out on a baking sheet. You can also use sausage links and just remove the casings and break up the pieces into the same size.
- Smoke them at about 225 degrees F for about an hour, just to get some flavor infusion.
- Then transfer the smoked sausage to your ragu sauce and let the sausage and tomato flavors incorporate together.
- Serve the Smoked Sausage Ragu over the creamy polenta and garnish with additional parmesan cheese.
How to Make Creamy Polenta
The length of time it will take you to cook your polenta will depend on the grind of cornmeal you use. Make sure to refer to your cornmeal package for their specific instructions. Bring 4 cups of water and 1 cup of milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly add polenta and cook, stirring constantly until all liquid is absorbed. Then, reduce heat to low and continue stirring occasionally until it has achieved the desired consistency.
Take it off the heat and add in butter and cheese.
We adapted this recipe from Pedroncelli to allow for the smoked sausage, and a more creamy and savory polenta (this is based on my preference, you can use whatever recipe or method you wish for your polenta).
Smoked Sausage Ragù and Parmesan Polenta
For the Smoked Sausage:
- 1 lb. bulk Italian sausage broken up into quarter-sized pieces (or the equivalent weight or links, with casings removed)
For the Ragu:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small red onion minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 ⁄4 cup finely chopped basil leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the Polenta:
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cups polenta also known as corn grits or cornmeal
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan loosely packed, plus more for garnish
To Smoke the Sausage:
- Preheat smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place sausage spread out on a large foil-lined cookie sheet in small quarter-sized clumps.
- Smoke for 60 minutes and remove. Look for a darker color on the exterior while still moist (we’re not worried about cooking to a perfect temperature here because it will continue cooking in the sauce).
For the Ragu and Polenta:
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 additional minute. Add the smoked sausage and the tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until integrated and thickened (about 40 minutes). Finish by adding the basil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.
- When sauce is halfway ready, bring 4 cups of water and 1 cup of milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly add polenta and cook, stirring constantly, and reduce heat to low. Continue stirring occasionally until desired consistency (I like a very creamy texture) around 15-20 minutes (*see notes on polenta exceptions). Remove from heat and add butter, parmesan, and additional salt, and stir together. Serve by ladling a large spoonful of the polenta into a serving dish then add the smoked sausage ragu, and top with additional parmesan cheese if desired.
Wine Pairing for Smoked Sausage Ragù with Polenta
Pedroncelli Winery Trio
Since the whole focus of this tasting was to learn about the wines of Pedroncelli we obviously paired the dish with their wines, but if you can’t find them in your area you can find a similar style of your liking.
Mid-prohibition, founders Giovanni & Julia bought 25 acres of vineyard, a shuttered winery and a home near Geyserville, CA (located in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County). They’ve now been around for 4 generations, making wine in the Dry Creek Valley, producing 16 different wines from fruit sourced both from their vineyards and neighboring sites. Their estate vineyard is 105 acres and home to 11 different grape varieties. We tried three different wines with the smoked sausage ragù.
Pedroncelli ‘Signature Selection’ Sonoma County Chardonnay (Dry Creek Valley, CA)
This Chardonnay was fresh, with bright citrus flavors (both lemon and tangerine) with some tropical flavors and a touch of spice and sweet oak. It had a nice balance of creamy textures and balanced acidity. Quite nice on its own or with the polenta, but conflicted a bit with the ragù.
14.2% abv | $16
Pedroncelli ‘Mother Clone’ Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley, CA)
Dark and rich in color this Zin was full of plum, blackberries, violet, spice and both chocolate and vanilla flavors. This wine had a lot going on and was nicely balanced. Not too intense with smooth tannins. It’s a bit smoky too, which worked really nicely with the smoked sausage ragù.
14.9% abv | $18
Pedroncelli ‘Family Vineyards’ Petite Sirah (Dry Creek Valley, CA)
Rich blackberry and savory spices, this wine had some fairly rich tannins. It was full of rich berries, savory spices, dark chocolate, and smoke. It was powerful, but not overpowering.
14.1% abv | $18
For me both the Zinfandel and the Petite Sirah were great with the dish, but the Petite Sirah benefitted the most from the dish, meaning I enjoyed it even more with the dish, whereas the Zin could stand alone (tasty with or without the dish).
Pairing a new wine with a dish like this is a fun way to get to know a producer, to understand how the wine is on its own and how it interacts with food. This particular dish also shows how easy it is to add some smoked love to anything, even an Italian classic.
*These wines were media samples sent for review for a live Twitter tasting. See my sample policy here.
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