While the nights (and some of the days) remain cool, I'm savoring some of my favorite wintertime meals before the grill, salads and corn on the cob kick in at full tilt.
Quick Polenta Lasagna is one of those meals that taste far better than they are difficult to make. When hot, the rubbery slices of polenta melt into the sauce and cheese to create a creamy, comforting mouthful. And it's delicious leftover, warmed up in the microwave until it's piping hot.
The recipe is written to be quick so it calls for a lot of easy ingredients — premade polenta and sauce, garlic powder, etc. — so you can make it easily during the week. But you also can improvise with the ingredients, make your own polenta or sauce, or change the ratio of cheese to polenta to meat to vegetables any way you'd like. You could use a spicy sauce today and a pesto sauce tomorrow. It really works every time.
I came across the recipe many years ago when working as a food editor. It turned out to be a keeper.
Quick Polenta Lasagna
Start to finish: 45 minutes, 10 minutes active
One 18-ounce tube prepared polenta (I generally use the plain, but you can mix it up with the different flavors available)
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1½ cups jarred pasta sauce
6 ounces Italian-style cooked chicken sausages, finely chopped (Instead of meat, I layer in some baby spinach leaves or some blanched broccoli or asparagus, or whatever veggies I have around)
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9-by-9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray or olive oil that you spread around with a paper towel.
Slice your tube of polenta into 10 or 12 thin rounds. Arrange half the rounds in a single layer to cover the bottom of the pan, breaking some in half if necessary to fill in the holes. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of mozzarella, garlic powder, pepper and the beaten egg. Spread half the mixture in an even layer over the polenta. If you're using the sausage, mix it with your pasta sauce and spread half of the mixture over the ricotta layer. If you're using veggies instead, layer half of them over the ricotta layer then spread on half of your sauce.
Layer on the rest of your polenta rounds, the remaining ricotta, the rest of your veggies and the remaining sauce. Top with the remaining mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese.
Spray with cooking spray or oil a sheet of aluminum foil then use it to cover the lasagna. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until the cheese is lightly browned. Let stand for five minutes before serving.
Original recipe from J.M. Hirsch at the Associated Press.
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments or recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.