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Baked Polenta Lasagna

Was playing around in my kitchen the other day. I love layering and baking and I wanted to try something new. Does anyone else have a thing for polenta? I swear…it is the ultimate comfort food. My grandmother was Roumanian so I grew up eating it. The dish we ate was called mamaliga (how crazy is that name?!) It is a boiled polenta dish served with some cottage cheese. mmm…

Here is what I did:

I started with the sauce, I made an eggplant based sauce. It was hearty and tangy. You can literally use any kind of sauce you want. 

2 large eggplants, roughly chopped

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon capers

1 bunch of fresh basil

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp red chili powder

2- 14 ounce cans of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed

2 teaspoons, brown sugar

Directions:

In a large pot, heat up 3 tablespoons of the oil and fry the eggplant all over until slightly golden. Remove the eggplant and heat up the rest of the olive oil. Toss in the onions, red bell peppers, and garlic, then season well with salt and pepper. Sweat for 5 minutes, then splash in the balsamic vinegar and add in the capers. Saute for a couple of minutes. Add the eggplant back in with the crushed tomatoes, basil, smoked paprika, chili powder and the brown sugar. Season again, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer and simmer for 1 hour. Don’t forget to stir. You can make the sauce a day or two in advance.

Polenta:

6 cups of water

2 cups of polenta

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup freshly grated parmesan

1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Directions: Season the water with the salt and bring to a boil. Once boiling stir in the polenta and continue mixing until it thickens up. Add in the olive oil the parmesan and the salt and pepper.

For the layering of the lasagna

2 large balls of fresh mozzarella or 1 1/2 cups small mozzarella balls

1/2 cup fresh basil

1 cup freshly grated parmesan

3 small eggplants, sliced lengthwise and either grilled with olive oil or pan fried with olive oil until golden.

In a large square pan, place a little sauce on the bottom, then ladle a layer of polenta on top until is covers the entire pan, then ladle a nice amount of sauce on top of the polenta, place some grilled eggplants on top of the sauce, mozzarella, a generous sprinkle of parmesan and then another layer of the polenta. Keep doing this until you are out of ingredients. Top whatever your last layer is with mozzarella and parmesan and bake at 350 degree F for 45 minutes. Serve hot! 

CHEERS GUYS! 

My very own baked Ziti..

I had the privilege last Sunday to be invited to my friend’s mother’s house for a full-blown Italian-American meal. His mother has this beautiful garden in her backyard tin which she grows plum tomatoes, peppers, chilies, parsley and obscene amounts of basil. Needless to say I was in heaven!!

Right when we sat down the plates of food just kept coming out..one after the other. Stuffed peppers, sausage with hot peppers, fat, juicy meatballs and the piece de resistance…baked ziti.

Baked ziti is ziti noodle, or penne (that’s what I used), which is baked with a rich tomato sauce, fresh ricotta cheese, Parmesan and mozzarella. The ziti I had from my friend’s mom has been on my mind ever since I tried it, so I had to try out my own. I added in some diced up eggplant to my baked ziti.

First things first- make the sauce. I used San Marzano canned tomatoes. Sauté 2 large onions in 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Sauté the onions until translucent. Add in 4 tablespoons of freshly chopped ginger, 6 garlic cloves finely chopped, and 2 tablespoon of freshly chopped thyme. Season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of red wine. When the wine evaporates add in two 28 oz cans of the crushed San Marzano tomatoes and 1 cup of water. Tear in 7 basil leaves and sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of sugar, season again with black pepper and a little bit of salt and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low for 1 ½- 2 hours. Make sure the sauce thickens up before using, uncover for a bit when it is done and turn up the heat, this will reduce the sauce.

While the sauce is simmering, fry up the eggplant. In a large pot put 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a pan and let that get nice and hot. Cut one eggplant into medium sized chunks. Place the eggplant into the pan and season with salt and black pepper. Sauté until all sides get brown and the meat becomes tender. Place on a side plate until needed.

When the sauce is almost nearing complete get a big pot of water with a handful of salt in it bring it to a roaring boil. Use a box and a half of the ziti or penne. Boil until the noodles still have some bite to it…Al-dente. Strain noodles out.
Place the noodles in a bowl with 1 cup of fresh whole milk ricotta, 3 torn up medium sized mozzarella balls, 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, the eggplants and almost all the sauce, depends on how dry or wet you want you ziti. (I think ¾ is the best.)  Make sure every noodle is smothered is cheese and sauce. Transfer everything into a dish, large enough to hold all of it. Tear up 2 more medium sized mozzarella balls and cover the top of the noodles, sprinkle on 1/2 cup more of freshly grated Parmesan.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes and serve hot. I like to serve mine with a simple wild arugula salad dressed with salt, olive oil and fresh lemon juice.


Presto! I did it! I made my own baked ziti..it is definitely a little different from the one I had, but it is my very own!
P.s. If there is extra sauce on hand, it is great for chicken parm, baked fish dishes..etc..

Enjoy! xx