The polenta has been sitting in my refrigerator, inducing fear every time I open the door. I first tasted it a Trader Joe’s at the mini kitchen in the back. It was tucked into a baked dish with red sauce and cheese. “Surely I could pull this one off,” I thought. But as soon as I got home, I knew better. New foods are eyed with suspicion until they’ve broken the barrier to regulars and I have to go through quite a few mental gymnastics and research to tame wild new ingredients for the taste buds in this house.
So it sat there and sat there, chiding me for spending the money on it. I ignored it and charged into my thoughts about the new year. Should I cook one recipe a day from the cookbooks I already had piling up on the sideboard? Should I run through the menus I’ve worked on for the last two years? Should I make everything I had pinned to my pinterest account? I started looking through the recipes I’d pinned and there it was, mocking me. Polenta Lasagne. It was only a small portion, only half enough to feed the crowd here. Plus, today I would have two more little mouths at the table and a baby on my hip while cooking. Why Not?
I bundled everyone in the car and got the remaining ingredients except for the one ingredient I knew I had to have. I forgot the Italian sausage. There was no way this dish was going over now. Vegetarian polenta lasagne. I desperately searched the garage freezer, hoping for some ray of mercy. There it was, in the form of two small white packages of spicy bear sausage from my girlfriend. It took me an hour to make between fussy babies, jumping toddlers, confused teenagers, and dishwashing preteens. We tucked it in the oven at 9:45 pm and left for the gym to burn off some steam. I knew better. I should have turned the temperature down to 325, covered it with foil, placed it in the middle of the oven. But I didn’t and burn it did. It still smelled heavenly though, so I cut the portions and flipped them upside down for a better presentation. They ate the whole thing.
adapted from Sara Moulton’s Polenta Lasagne
2 medium onions
6 T extra virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage (or spicy Bear sausage)
4 garlic cloves
One 14 1/2 oz can diced tomatoes (preferably Muir Glen organic fire roasted)
1 jar Trader Joe’s organic tomato basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
One 16- to 18- oz log cooked plain polenta
Flour for dusting the polenta
4 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano
8 oz shredded mozzarella
Directions 1. Place an oven rack in the top third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a 9×13-inch baking dish.
2. Finely chop the onion (about 1 cup). Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Slice the sausage into 1/2 inch pieces using a serrated knife; add the sausage to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the sausage is no longer pink. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the onion and cook for 5 minutes or until it has softened. Press the garlic (about 2 teaspoons) into the pan and cook for 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes with their juice and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until most of the juice has evaporated and the mixture is saucy; Add jar of sauce and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Meanwhile, cut the polenta into 1/3- inch-thick slices. Heat another 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat until hot. Reduce the heat to medium, dip half the polenta slices in the flour to coat lightly on both sides and add to the pan. Sauté the polenta for about 5 minutes, or until it begins to brown; turn the polenta and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the second side begins to brown. Remove the polenta slices and arrange them to cover the bottom of the oiled baking pan. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining polenta (remove the slices to a plate if the sauce has not finished cooking.)
4. Microplane-grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 1/3 cups) or grate on the fine side of a box grater (about 2/3 cup). When the sauce has finished cooking, spoon half over the polenta in the pan. Top it with half the mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Repeat layering the remaining polenta, sauce, mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
5. Bake the lasagne for 15 to 20 minutes, or until bubbly and lightly browned. Cut into 4 servings and transfer to dinner plates.
Next time I would add more vegetables as it could easily handle mushrooms, black olives, spinach, or kale.