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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! 

Little Italy in the Bronx trumps any other Little Italy!

Probably one of the best outings I have had in a while. Please go hungry because I swear walking through this neighborhood is like going to grandma’s house….all they want to do is feed you!!

Every store I walked into had a warm, welcoming feeling. It felt like I was seeing friends I have known my whole life.

The seafood stores were some of the most beautiful seafood stores I have seen in all of New York. They smelt like the ocean which is a great sign..

They set up fresh oyster and clam stands right in front where you can enjoy their fresh, sweet, briny goodness, right there and then….

Now, I am not joking when I say I actually felt like I was in Italy..everything being made and prepared in this neighborhood is what you would find there.

Smoked and fresh mozzarella, massive wheels of parmesan, stores stacked with freshly made sausages, cured sausages, smoked sausages, spicy sausages, hand made pastas and raviolis, homeade wines, fresh gelato at every corner, little coffee shops with Italian cakes, cookies and of course..espresso..mmmm…

So much care and love!

spicy sopressata…uh! I need some right now!

I did not put any store names in this post, because I truly think this is a neighborhood that needs to be navigated and discovered by getting lost in its Italian magic. Every store is unique and makes food like mama makes..recipes and techniques passed down from generation to generation. Please spend a day wondering the street and the surrounding streets of Arthur avenue. I recommend going there when you have nothing else planned for the rest of the day and when you have no eaten anything..you do not want to be rushed or full when coming here. Hope you enjoy!