Never tried polenta before, but lately have wondered more about it. So when I saw it on sale in the "health food" section of Smith's, I grabbed a package. Purists may frown upon buying the pre-cooked, packaged stuff, but whatever. I didn't really want to invest the time on a time-intensive dish that I wasn't sure I'd like, so this was a good alternative.
Polenta is made with ground yellow or white cornmeal (ground maize), similar to gruel or porridge. Polenta was originally and is still classified as a peasant food in Italy, being in the North the equivalent of pasta in the south – cheap, filling, and readily available. During Roman times, it was a staple of the Roman legions, eaten in porridge or hard cake form. Before the arrival of corn from the New World at the end of the 15th century, polenta was made with starches like farro, millet, spelt or chickpeas. Since the late 20th century polenta has found popularity as a gourmet dish and is served in high-end restaurants as well as sold widely in supermarkets as a specialty item.
Seeing that it is usually used as a pasta substitute, and finding some recipes online that used it in lasagna, I threw together my own version. Pretty quick and easy, particularly if you have everything pre-diced, which I did the night before. I really liked this, but I'll warn you - it probably isn't family friendly. Definitely for the health-food junkie.
Vegetable Polenta Lasagna
18 oz pre-packaged polenta, sliced into about 12 thin rounds
1 cup pasta sauce
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Sprinkle red pepper flakes
1 tsp minced garlic
¼ cup diced onion
¼ cup diced eggplant
¼ cup diced bell pepper
¼ cup diced zucchini
¼ cup diced yellow squash
1 large tomato, sliced thinly
1 cup fresh chopped swiss chard or spinach
2/3 cup low-fat cottage cheese (or ricotta)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray polenta slices with cooking spray and bake for about 8-10 minutes on a prepared cookie sheet, flipping halfway through.
Meanwhile, sauté diced onion, eggplant, zucchini, squash, and bell pepper in 1 tsp olive oil until tender-crisp, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to let drain a bit.
When polenta is done, layer enough slices to cover the bottom of a prepared baking dish (8x8 worked for me). Top with a thin layer of pasta sauce, swiss chard or spinach, sliced fresh tomatoes, veggie mixture, 1/3 cup cottage cheese, and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Repeat with remaining ingredients, finishing with 1 Tbsp shredded Parmesan.
Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes.