In September of last year, a friend sent me a link to a polenta casserole recipe. It stayed in my in-box, but I never got around to making it. . .until the pantry was nearly empty because I was trying desperately not to buy much before the move. Then I remembered having a similar dish at a restaurant in Nice in March. Actually, I think we got to have some twice thanks to traveling with the family and the opportunity to taste what's on everyone's plates.
I made the casserole ahead of time, refrigerated it, and plopped it in the oven on my way to a mommy event. I came back to an amazing meal. Plus, I made the recipe again a week later using gluten-free cornmeal to serve to special-diet guests.
I would describe this recipe as a lasagna, really. The pasta is polenta (or cornmeal that can be creamy or more solid) that's very popular in Italy. And it's another way to hide vegetables from children or picky eaters. I'm sure a variety of vegetables would sub well.
Something else to add to the layers is a small amount of leftover basil pesto. I'm sure I had less than 1/2 a cup on hand, but even a little bit added wonderful flavor. It's highly recommended.
I want to add a big note here because when you get to the recipe, you'll have questions. See, this recipe doesn't have to have cheese. Yes, it makes a difference. And yes, I still use cheese garnishes often (especially on pizza), but I feel it's wrong to put measurements in for the cheese. I'd rather say "Put as little as you can get away with." I'm not suddenly against cheese. I'm simply experimenting with using a little less of it sometimes so I can focus more on the other flavors in a dish. If you really need an estimate, I used about half a small bag of shredded mozzarella. OK, so I might would use more next time, but it didn't hurt to try it this way just this once.
Adapted from Simply Recipes
- 3/4 jar pasta sauce (I prefer Classico)
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 small onion, sliced thinly
- 2 carrots, sliced thinly
- 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
- 1/2 cup basil pesto, optional
To cook polenta, in small pot bring water and salt to a boil. Stir in cornmeal, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Turn down the heat and simmer, stirring often, until the water is absorbed.
Meanwhile, saute onions and carrots (or preferred veggies) in olive oil until softened.
To assemble, spoon 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 9 oven-safe dish. Spread half of polenta around dish. Top with half of remaining pasta sauce, cooked vegetables, optional pesto, and a thin layer of cheese. Spread remaining polenta evenly and cover with sauce and cheese.
Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes (according to original recipe, but mine seemed to take closer to 45 minutes). The dish should be heated through. Individual servings microwaved well.