The plus side (supposedly!) of the original recipe for this dish from Martha Stewart was that it was a vegetarian casserole without cheese. After seeing an adaptation on Kirkley Crossing, I added fresh mozzarella. Cheese makes everything better! I added fresh spinach too.
I made the polenta but did use jarred marinara as a shortcut. We enjoyed it with a green salad. Cheesy vegetarian casseroles are perfect comfort food in cold weather!
Yield: Serves 6
For the Polenta:
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp coarse salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup polenta or coarse yellow cornmeal (not quick cooking)
- Mix one cup of liquid with the cornmeal and stir. This prevents the cornmeal from lumping when added to the boiling liquid.
- Bring the remaining stock to a boil in a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot and add the salt and pepper.
- To the boiling stock, pour the cornmeal slurry in a steady stream, stirring constantly until completely added.
- Simmer over low heat, stirring often, until done, about 30 to 40 minutes. When done, polenta will pull away from the sides of the pot and will be soft in texture.
- Remove the pot from the heat and finish as desired. Adjust the consistency with additional stock or water, if necessary. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Pour onto a greased half-sheet pan and refrigerated until cool and firm. (I coated the sheet pan with cooking oil spray.)
For the Layered Eggplant & Polenta Casserole:
- 24 oz jar (3 cups) marinara sauce (I used Trader Joe’s Italian Marinara Sauce with Barolo Wine- delicious!)
- 1 batch Polenta (recipe above)
- 2 large handfuls organic baby spinach, coarsely chopped
- 2 T extra virgin olive oil, or more if necessary
- coarse salt
- 1 medium eggplant, preferably organic, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1 pound (16 oz) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- Heat oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
- Preheat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.
- Slice polenta into squares about 1/2 inch thick. (I cut mine into 24 pieces.) Brush lightly with olive oil. Place in the skillet until lightly browned. Flip over and repeat. Transfer to a plate.
- Brush eggplant slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in the skillet until nicely browned, flip over and repeat. Transfer to a plate.
- Spoon about 1/2 cup tomato sauce into a 9-inch square baking dish, spreading to coat evenly. Arrange eggplant slices snugly in a single layer. (I used 9 slices per layer.)
- Top each round with a sprinkling of spinach (1 large handful) and a slice of mozzarella cheese.
- Top with a layer of polenta.
- Spoon about 3/4 to 1 cup tomato sauce over the top. Repeat with another layer of eggplant, spinach, cheese, and polenta. Finish by dotting with remaining tomato sauce.
- Cover with foil; place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until bubbling and juicy, about 45 minutes.
- Remove foil; place on upper rack in the oven and continue baking until sauce is lightly caramelized and eggplant is tender, about 15 minutes more.
- Remove from oven; let cool slightly, and serve.
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