Peppers, Eggplant and Onions in Tomato Sauce over Polenta. (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Peppers, Eggplant and Onions in Tomato Sauce over Polenta. (Photo/Faith Kramer)

My Hungarian-Italian bubbe’s sauce is perfect on polenta

A hearty tomato sauce is a family favorite in fall and winter. This recipe for peppers, eggplant and onions in tomato sauce has both Hungarian and Italian influences and is based on the cooking of Grandma Clara, my beloved Hungarian-Italian Jewish step-grandmother.

This dish has elements of her Italian-style tomato sauce and lecsó, a Hungarian paprika-laden stew of peppers and onions. Despite 2 tablespoons of paprika, the dish is not very spicy, so add red pepper flakes for more heat. The sauce keeps in the refrigerator for several days. For a dairy meal, serve with a grating of Parmesan cheese and/or some dollops of ricotta cheese.

I like the sauce on top of pasta or, better yet, on cooked cornmeal (known as polenta in Italian, puliszka in Hungarian or mamaliga in Romanian). What follows is an easy (and totally inauthentic) microwave polenta I have been making for years.

Pour leftover polenta into small, heat-proof custard or other cups, refrigerate, and reheat in a steamer or microwave. Unmold directly onto plates. Try the sauce with your own favorite polenta recipe, or with grilled or fried slices of precooked tubes of polenta (found in supermarket pasta sections).

The polenta and sauce make great side dishes with sausages or roast chicken.


Peppers, Eggplant and Onions in Tomato Sauce

Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil, plus more as needed
  • 4 cups chopped onion, cut in ¼-inch pieces
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbs. sweet (regular) paprika
  • ¼ -½ tsp. red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano leaves, crumbled
  • 4 cups chopped eggplant, cut in ½-inch pieces
  • 4 cups chopped sweet peppers, cut in ½-inch pieces, see notes
  • 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes (with liquid)
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ¼ cup water, plus more as needed
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil

Heat oil over medium-high heat in Dutch oven or soup pot. Sauté onion until softened and becoming translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic. Sauté until golden. Add salt, paprika, red pepper flakes and oregano. Sauté 1 minute. Add eggplant. Sauté 7 to 10 minutes until eggplant is lightly browned and softened. Add oil as needed. Add peppers and sauté about 5 minutes until beginning to soften. Stir in crushed tomatoes with liquid, sugar and water. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cover, adjust heat to keep at simmer, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until vegetables are tender (but not mushy) and flavors are blended. Stir in olive oil. Simmer without lid for a few minutes until the sauce is the consistency of a very thick pasta sauce, but not at all dry (add water as needed).

Notes: Use any combination of red and yellow sweet (not spicy) peppers such as bell peppers, Hungarian sweet peppers, Italian frying peppers, etc.


Soft Microwave Polenta

Serves 4 to 6

Adapted from “Microwave Gourmet” by Barbara Kafka

  • 4 cups water
  • ¾ cup yellow or white cornmeal, see notes
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • ⅛ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbs. room temperature parve stick margarine or unsalted butter, optional, see notes
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Stir water, cornmeal and salt together in 2-qt. microwave-safe soufflé or deep casserole dish. Cook uncovered at full power for 6 minutes. Stir well. Loosely cover with paper towel. Cook at full power for 6 minutes. Stir in pepper and margarine or butter and cheese. Let stand for 3 minutes. Stir again before serving.

Notes: Recipe does not halve or double well. Timing is for 700-watt oven. Reduce time for each stage by about 2 minutes for 1,000-watt oven. I use regular cornmeal from the supermarket. Margarine is salted, so if using, reduce salt by ½ tsp. and taste before serving. Add salt if needed.

Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. She blogs about her food at clickblogappetit.com. Contact Faith at clickblogappetit@gmail.com.