Polenta Lasagna – a blog post of its own

That’s right, an entire blog post devoted to this one delectable dish.  Special thanks to Erica De Mane for this taste sensation, and to my fantastic friend Chris Campbell who attended one of Erica’s Recession Cooking Classes and passed this gem on.

I see it’s been over a month since posting.  Shame on me.  I feel confident this recipe will make up for lost time.  It’s labor intensive — I’m not going to lie.  And totally worth it.  While making my second batch the other day I questioned, “Is this really worth it?”  The answer is unanimous.  YES, it is.

The “pasta” of the lasagna is created from the polenta and now that I think about it, it’s significantly less labor intensive than I imagine making actual pasta in our yet unused, pasta machine would be.  Marshall spotted this in a neighbor’s trash while perusing their yard sale.  “I’ll give you a dollar,” he says.  A steal at twice the price; though it required some refurbishing and became a project requiring as much space as it’s intended use.  There’s one on ebay right now for $1.25.  Clearly, that wasn’t the point:)

The point is, POLENTA LASAGNA.  Good for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, hot or cold.  My mouth is already watering . . .

The full name of the recipe is Polenta Lasanga with Cabbage and Fontina (serves 6, or 2 over the course of a week at my house); my modifications in blue.

For the polenta:
2 c. cold water
1 c. cold chicken broth (veggie broth)
2 c. instant, quick cooking polenta (Bob’s Red Mill, not instant and thus requires more cooking time)
1 c. milk (evaporated milk b/c that’s what we have on hand)
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
freshly round black papper
1 T unsalted butter (salted totally works)
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. graded grana padano (I used some gruyere/cheddar mix from Trader Joe’s, a wonderful all purpose cheese)
(I add 1/2 t. of red pepper flakes b/c we like things hot around here)

For the cabbage:
extra virgin olive oil
1/2″ thich round of pancetta, diced (veggie chorizo)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium head of green cabbage, cored and chopped into a medium dice
salt (Chinese cabbage works great.  Erica’s also got a recipe for one with brussels sprouts.  I imagine any member of the Brassica family would be lovely)
freshly ground black pepper
4 allspice berries, ground to a powder
a few large sprigs each of rosemary and thyme
1/2 c. white wine (Prosecco is what was open and in the fridge)
1/2 c. chicken broth (veggie)
1/2 t. of white wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar)
3/4 lb. of fontina val d’aosta, roughly grated (whatever hard cheese I have on hand, romano, parm, I used another I can’t remember the name of and it rocked)

Pour the cold water and the cold broth into a large saucepan. Add polenta, and stir.  Cold liquids ensure that the polenta won’t clump.  Bring the polenta to a low boil over medium high heat and stir frequently.  Turn the heat to low, add milk, bay leaf, and some salt and back pepper (red pepper flakes if you are using).  Stir frequently until polenta is thick and smooth.  Approx. 20-30 minutes.  Add butter, a drizzle of olive oil, and grated cheese, stir well.  If the polenta has become too thick, add a little warm water and work it in.  You want a pourable consistency.  Check for seasoning, add more salt or black pepper if needed.

Coat two sheet pans well with olive oil, and pour the polenta out onto them, smoothing it down.  It should be about ½ inch thick. As it cools, it will become firm, so let it sit for about an hour. You can make it the day ahead and refrigerate it, but return it to room temperature before assembling the casserole.

To make the cabbage:
In a large skillet, heat 2 T. of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the pancetta, and let it get good and crisp.  Add the onion, and sauté until softened.  Add the garlic, and sauté until it is just turning golden.  Add the cabbage, season it with salt, black pepper, allspice, and the herbs.  Sauté until the cabbage begins to wilt, (about 8 min.).  Next add the white wine, and let it bubble away.  Add the broth, and simmer, partially covered, until the cabbage is tender and most of the liquid has boiled off, about 20 minutes.  Add the vinegar, and give it a stir.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt or black pepper, if needed, or possibly another little hit of vinegar.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Coat  an approximately 8×12″ baking dish with 2-3″ sides with oil. Cut the polenta into large pieces (strips), and fit them into the dish, making one layer. Heap on a good amount of the cabbage mixture, and smooth it out. Scatter on an ample amount of the grated cheese, and give it a little salt and black pepper.  Make another layer of polenta, another one of the rest of the cabbage, and another sprinkling of cheese. Make a final layer of polenta, and sprinkle it with the remaining cheese. Drizzle with some olive oil, and a few grindings of black pepper.  Place the dish on a sheet pan and bake, uncovered, until it’s bubbling hot and the top is golden, about 35 min.  Let the polenta rest approx. 15 min. before slicing.  (This firms up so nicely after being refrigerated, thus I find it tastes even better the next day.)

Sidenote:  While writing, Marshall looked over my shoulder and said, “That pasta maker’s on ebay?”  “For $1.25.”  I said.  He laughed and shook his head.

Sidenote 2:  My photography skills don’t lend themselves to a photo that could do this dish justice.  But I’d love to see yours!

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