Thursday, February 7, 2013

Polenta Veggie Lasagna

I love polenta. These days everyone seems to be talking about polenta, but I can't remember a time when polenta wasn't part of my life. I used to look forward to my grandma making us polenta with her homemade tomato sauce and meat balls. Not quite as good as her risotto, but it was sure up there.

When I first saw the tubes of it that Trader Joe's sells I was so excited. I would slice them and cook them in a pan. They even have a polenta/quinoa option which is delicious. I told my grandma about my discovery and she gave me some quick cooking polenta. And boy is it quick! I would make a double batch and eat half of it runny and the other half the next day after it had become more solid. They also make regular, finely ground corn meal that cooks almost as fast, but my latest discovery is stone-ground corn meal. I orginally bought it as it's a bit more nutrious in that it retains (at least some of) the hull and germ. It's more coarse and due to the oil in the germ, more flavorful! I didn't realize it would taste so much better until I found myself scraping the remains from the pot to nibble on. I used to douce my polenta in tomato sauce and shook my head at the plain polenta that would stick to the spoon b/c it was just bland on it's own. I guess now I can come up with some new recipes. This one uses only minimal tomato sauce, but you could always add more (or less).

Polenta Veggie Lasagna
How I Did It:

5 cups water
1 1/2 cups stone ground corn meal (or finely ground if you prefer)
10 oz frozen spinach, defrosted with liquid
1 cup frozen chopped stop light peppers
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp basil
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
15 oz tomato sauce of choice*
3/4 cup of shredded cheddar jack cheese

1. Lightly grease two 8x8" baking pans (I used one 8x8" and one 9x9") and set aside.

2. Boil water and cook the corn meal until is has thickened up. You will need to stir frequently to avoid it sticking. Pour into both of the pans, spreading out with a spoon to make sure it is flat and even. Place in the fridge to firm up for about 20 minutes.

3. While the polenta is in the fridge, prepare the veggies. In a large skillet place the spinach, peppers, and onions. The water from them should allow you to cook without oil, but if you need to you can add some olive oil or water. As they are cooking, add in the spices.

4. Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the baking pans of polenta from the fridge. Layer all of the vegetable mixture on top of the 9x9" polenta, spreading it out evenly all the way to the edges. Coat the vegetables in a layer of tomato sauce. Gently flip the 8x8" polenta square out of its pan and place it, bottom side down, on top of the veggie and sauce layers. Coat with more tomato sauce and then sprinkle with cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes or until  the cheese is melted and the tomato sauce starts to bubble.

*I like to make my own sauce from San Marzano canned peeled tomatoes or tomato puree to which I add my own spices, etc, but you can use your favorite canned tomato sauce.

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