Polenta with Roasted Vegetable Ragu

For Ragu:
1 small butternut (pumpkin) squash, cut in half and seeds removed
1 small turnip, parsnip or rutabaga, peeled and quartered
1 small zucchini, quartered
1 small eggplant, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 small green bell pepper, halved and seeded
4 ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound
1 leek, cut in half lengthwise and carefully washed
3 ounces fresh white mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons dry white wine
For Polenta:
4 cups water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup coarse-grind polenta (quick-cooking or regular)
3 tablespoons fresh herbs, such as oregano, thyme and/or marjoram, or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried herbs
3/4 cup freshly grated good-quality italian parmesan cheese

For Ragu: Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F. Put the butternut squash in a baking pan and place in the center of the oven. Bake, uncovered, until soft but not mushy when pierced, about 1 hour.

About 40 minutes before the squash is ready, place all the other vegetables in a large baking pan, keeping each vegetable separate, and cover with aluminum foil. Place the second baking pan in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until tender when pierced with a fork, 20-25 minutes longer. Remove all the vegetables from the oven and let cool.

Peel the butternut squash. Cut the squash; turnip, parsnip or rutabaga; zucchini; eggplant; bell pepper and tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice. Thinly slice the leek crosswise, and quarter the mushrooms. Keep the vegetables separate.

In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the turnip, parsnip or rutabaga and leek and sauté for 1 minute. Raise the heat to high and add the zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper and mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the squash and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 1 minute longer. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the flavors are blended, 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and simmer for 1 minute longer. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Keep warm.

For Polenta: In a deep saucepan over high heat, bring the water and butter to a boil. Slowly pour in the polenta while stirring continuously with a whisk. Allow the mixture to bubble, whisking constantly, for 1-2 minutes as it thickens. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer, whisking constantly to prevent burning and lumps from forming, until the polenta grains swell and are tender like porridge, about 5 minutes for quick-cooking polenta and 20 minutes for regular polenta or according to package directions. During the last few minutes of cooking, stir in the herbs and cheese and season to taste with salt and white pepper.

Ladle the polenta onto warmed individual plates. Make a well in the center of each serving, ladle the rag├╣ over the top and serve.

Serves 4

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