We had dinner the other night with some of our most special friends, who are in the midst of coping with a toddler + new baby combo. Baby asleep, candlelight on the deck, our little girls running around together in their PJs, jumping on the bed and giggling when they were meant to be sleeping too....
I brought dinner and I wanted to make something really yum but not too expensive. I promise, organic food can be affordable if you're careful! So here's a great standard recipe for Polenta Lasagne, that I adapted from a recipe in Italian Country Cooking: The Secrets of Cucina Povera (Food and Mood) by Loukie Werle. I'd experiment with different kinds of cheeses and veggies, depending on what you have on hand or what's on sale. This is comfort food at its best (and cheapest)!
Serves 8 (including second helpings)
500g quick cooking polenta (cornmeal)
3 tsp salt
8 cups water or milk (I used whey from making the ricotta) or veggie stock
The tomato sauce
1 x 700mL jar of passata (plain tomato sauce)
or 2 x 400mL cans tomatoes
3 T olive oil
2 stalks celery, minced
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
a handful of fresh basil, finely torn
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
The cheese and veggies
250g wheel of brie, sliced (mine was goats milk)
100g fresh spinach
*use organic ingredients when you can
1. Preheat the oven to 190 C.
2. Put the salt and water/milk into saucepan, bring to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and add the polenta, stirring constantly with a fork (I find a whisk will get gluggy). Make sure it's mixed well and then set aside for the moment.
3. Saute the onion in olive oil over med-high heat until softened, then add the celery and garlic. When that's soft too, add the basil, bay leaves, passata or tomatoes, and the salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to med-low and simmer for 15-20 min. You just want to get the flavors mingling and get the sauce thick enough that you won't have polenta soup.
4. Now it's time to build the lasagne--really, it's just like a regular one. Put a little bit of sauce in the bottom of a large greased lasagne dish and spread it around. Just a little is fine, this is to help with any sticking/moisture issues. Then add 1/2 the polenta (which should be quite mushy) and push it down so it's evenly distributed throughout the dish. The next layer will consist of 1/2 the ricotta and all of the spinach. Don't bother cooking the spinach beforehand, it'll be fine (but if you use other veg like red peppers I might saute or roast them a little first). On top of this layer put 1/2 the remaining tomato sauce. Then the rest of the polenta. Then another layer of cheese, this time using the slices of brie. Then the rest of the tomato sauce. Make sure each layer is spread as evenly as you can across the dish. I used the rest of the ricotta on the top of the lasagne, in rows (which looked pretty nice).
5. Bake uncovered in the oven for 45-50 minutes, until bubbly and starting to brown at the edges. Cool it down a bit and serve up with a crisp salad and a glass of vino. Yum.
How much did this cost me?
I thought if I'm going to make a point that organic, quality food can be affordable, I should show you how much it cost me to make it. The great thing about polenta is that it's CHEAP.
Everything in this recipe was organic: The polenta ($2), onion ($0.83), olive oil ($0.30) and passata ($4.20) were full price; the ricotta I made from 2L of marked down milk ($2.85), the whey was a by-product of that process (which I'll of course describe in a later posting... ); the brie ($4.50) was also marked down. The basil ($0.30), celery ($1), and spinach ($2) were remnants I found in the fridge from a previous marked-down purchase. And the bay leaves ($0.30) I dried myself from the farmers' markets.
This meal served 5 hefty portions, plus some seconds, plus 2-3 lunches for the next day. So for 8 portions it was just over $18--that's less than $2.50 per amazing portion. Wow.
I promise, more polenta based recipes will be coming--it's one of those terrific ingredients that can really save you lots.
Thanks to Steph Bond for the beautiful lasagne photos!