Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Polenta Casserole

For my first entry in my Great Recipe Challenge of 2012, I tried out a Polenta Casserole with Fontina and Tomato Sauce recipe I found online. I served this dish at the foodie potluck dinner that inspired this challenge. I'm happy to say, in a room full of meat-eaters, this recipe got the thumbs up!

The only thing I changed about this recipe as I was making it was to use more water when cooking the polenta. The original recipe called for a quart of water, which quickly disappeared as soon as I added the polenta. It was getting too thick and I was afraid it would burn, so I checked the package instructions. It called for 6 cups of water per 2 cups polenta, so I added in the extra two cups. It turned out perfectly!

I also added some more detail to the instructions, as I noticed there was the potential for steam burns when cooking the polenta!

Honestly, if I were to make this recipe again, I might reduce the amount of polenta and add more vegetables in the sauce. Or, I could keep the same amount of polenta, AND add more vegetables to the sauce, perhaps doubling the amount of sauce used, and using a bigger casserole dish. Ideas to enhance the sauce include spinach, mushrooms (portabello, baby bella, white button, etc), eggplant, summer squashes, and broccoli. Even some crumbled up Tofurky or Field Roast Italian sausages would work well in this dish and increase the protein content. Really, I'd imagine anything that would go well in a veggie lasagne would also go well in this recipe. It's a nice, simple jumping off point that could go in many different directions!

Polenta Casserole with Fontina and Tomato Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup finely chopped carrots
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes (with basil if you have it)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (or 1 Tbsp fresh, chopped)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta, or coarse cornmeal
2 cups grated Fontina cheese

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan on medium heat, add the onions, carrots, and celery. Cook until onions are translucent and carrots just tender (5-10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook a minute more. Add the tomatoes and their juice (break up tomatoes as you put them in), parsley, and oregano. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered, until sauce is reduced to about 3 cups. Mix in fresh basil, season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large saucepan bring 1 1/2 quarts of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt. Slowly whisk in the polenta. Be careful when stirring, as air pockets can get trapped in the polenta and release steam periodically. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until thick and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Prepare a baking dish, brush 8x8x2 pyrex or ceramic baking dish with olive oil. Spread 1/3 of the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Pour half of the polenta over the sauce. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Pour another third of the sauce over the cheese. Pour the remaining half of the polenta over the sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, cover with remaining sauce. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake until completely heated through, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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