Layered Eggplant & Polenta Casserole

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)
  1. Mix one cup of liquid with the cornmeal and stir. This prevents the cornmeal from lumping when added to the boiling liquid.
  2. Bring the remaining stock to a boil in a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot and add the salt and pepper.
  3. To the boiling stock, pour the cornmeal slurry in a steady stream, stirring constantly until completely added.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Preheat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. Top each round with a sprinkling of spinach (1 large handful) and a slice of mozzarella cheese.
  7. Top with a layer of polenta.
  8. 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.
  9. Cover with foil; place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until bubbling and juicy, about 45 minutes.
  10. 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.
  11. Remove from oven; let cool slightly, and serve.

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Wild Rice & Mushroom Casserole

This hearty vegetarian main course casserole would be a lovely option to serve vegetarian guests during the holidays. We ate it as a cozy winter meal with roasted broccoli and green salad.

The puréed beans add creaminess to the filling. After reading comments about this recipe online, I was apprehensive to include all of the bean liquid required in the original recipe because others had complained that the final consistency was mushy. I only used half of a cup but next time I would include 1 cup or even additional liquid (noted below).

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I substituted celery for fennel, added a chipotle chile, used mixed baby greens, and reduced the breadcrumbs, beans, liquid, and baking time. It was the ultimate dish to utilize my brand new giant 14-inch skillet. Yay! The vegetables could be cooked in batches if using a smaller pan, of course.

Yield: 12 servings

  • 2 ¼ cups vegetable, mushroom or chicken stock
  • coarse salt
  • 1 ¼ cups wild rice, rinsed
  • 9 t0 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
  • 24 oz sliced mushrooms, preferably a mix of different kinds (I used cremini mushrooms.)
  • 3 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 celery heart or 2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and chopped
  • 5 ounces mixed baby kale, chard, and spinach
  • 7 fat garlic cloves (4 chopped, 3 finely grated or crushed into a paste)
  • ½ tablespoon tomato paste
  • teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • (14-ounce) cans white beans, strained with liquid reserved (I used cannellini beans.)
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce (about 2 tsp)
  • tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • cup chopped fresh cilantro (or basil)
  • cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/4 cups panko or coarse bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
  1. Taste broth; if bland, season to taste with salt. In a medium pot, bring broth to a boil over high heat. Stir in rice, lower heat, cover and simmer until just tender, about 1 hour, or according to package directions. Fluff rice with a fork, cover and let stand for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, sauté vegetables: In a large, heavy skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until brown and crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. (If using a smaller pan, cook in batches, adding oil if necessary.)
  3. Adjust heat as needed to prevent burning. Transfer cooked mushrooms to a plate and sprinkle lightly with salt.
  4. In the empty skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Stir in leeks, fennel/celery and 1 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring, until soft but not browned, about 8 minutes.
  5. Stir in baby greens, chopped garlic, tomato paste and red pepper flakes, and cook until garlic starts turning golden, another 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat.
  6. Heat oven to 400 degrees, and oil a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. (I used cooking oil spray.)
  7. In a blender, purée 2 cans beans with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the reserved liquid, chipotle, lemon juice, 1 grated garlic clove, and salt to taste. (I used a Vitamix.)
  8. Stir bean purée, remaining whole beans (drained), mushrooms, cilantro, parsley and cooked wild rice into skillet with vegetables. Taste and add more salt or lemon as needed; it should be well seasoned. Add additional bean liquid, if necessary, in order to achieve desired consistency. Scrape into prepared baking dish.
  9. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, rosemary, lemon zest, remaining 2 grated garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in 1/4 cup olive oil and Parmesan, if using.
  10. Sprinkle evenly on top of casserole and bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.
Note: To make part of this recipe in advance, assemble casserole and prepare topping (separately) up to 24 hours ahead. Refrigerate, covered, in separate containers. Just before baking, spread breadcrumb topping evenly over the casserole. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until heated through and topping is golden, another 20 to 30 minutes.

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Spaghetti Pie with Wild Mushrooms & Spinach

This is a cheesy and delicious vegetarian comfort food dish. The pie was inspired by roadside diner spaghetti sandwiches in New Zealand! 🙂

This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Gail Simmons. I increased the amount of garlic and spinach and modified the baking time for a convection oven. I used a combination of cremini and shiitake mushrooms. Wonderful.

Yield: serves 8 to 10

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°, preferably on convection. Tightly wrap the outside of 
a 9-inch springform pan with foil and brush the inside with butter or spray with cooking oil.
  2. In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti 
until barely al dente; drain.
  3. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until sizzling, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Scrape into a bowl.
  5. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the spinach, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Incorporate all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  6. Scrape spinach into the mushrooms and let cool slightly.
  7. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk.
  8. Add the spaghetti, mushroom mixture, 3 cheeses, sage, thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper; mix well.
  9. Scrape into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  10. Set the pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes in a convection oven or 35 minutes in a standard oven, until bubbling and the top 
is golden.
  11. Let stand for 15 minutes. Remove the ring, cut 
the pie into wedges and serve.

I’m sharing my pie at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #196, co-hosted by Jhuls @The Not So Creative Cook and Antonia @ Zoale.com. Enjoy!

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Sheet Pan Roasted Chicken with Za’atar, Potatoes, & Greens

This sheet pan meal was a healthy and delicious weeknight dish. I especially loved that the kale was even wilted under a broiler on a sheet pan. The entire dish is made in one oven on two sheet pans- great.

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of bone-in and adapted the cooking method.

Yield: Serves 4

  • 4 teaspoons za’atar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 10 boneless, skinless (about 2.5 to 3 pounds) chicken thighs and drumsticks
  • 1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • 1 bunch (8 to 10 ounces) laminate or Tuscan kale (cut into 2-inch pieces), or baby kale, spinach, or arugula (about 4 packed cups)
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. In a small bowl, mix za’atar with 2 tablespoons oil and 2 teaspoons salt.
  3. Rub za’atar mixture all over chicken. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Add lemon halves
  4. Toss onion wedges with 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper; add to baking sheet along with chicken pieces and lemon halves.
  5. Roast in the center of the oven until a thermometer inserted into thickest parts of chicken registers about 150 degrees, about 20 minutes, flipping half way through the cooking process.
  6. On a second parchment paper-lined, rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper.
  7. Roast simultaneously in the lower third of oven, stirring once, until starting to brown, about 20 minutes.
  8. Remove potatoes from the oven.
  9. Switch oven to broiler setting. (I put my oven on Convection-Broil-Max at 450 degrees.)
  10. Move baking sheet to upper third of oven; broil until chicken is browned, 2 to 3 minutes.
  11. Drizzle kale lightly with oil; season with salt and pepper. Scatter kale over chicken and broil until just wilted and thermometer inserted into thickest parts of chicken registers 165 degrees, 1 to 2 minutes more.
  12. Let cool slightly, then squeeze lemon halves over chicken.
  13. Remove kale to a platter, place chicken on top; toss remaining vegetables together and serve alongside.

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Shrimp in Yellow Curry

I have difficulty getting together the energy to cook after a long day at the beach. Life is rough! 😉 I’m always looking for new fast and fabulous meals to try.

This is a bright, flavor-packed, quick, and delicious weeknight dish. Perfect after a long day outside. It could be prepared any time of year as well.

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Mark Bittman. I modified the proportions, used Maharajah curry, and incorporated spinach and a red bell pepper into the dish. We ate it over brown Basmati rice. Wonderful!

Yield: Serves 4 to 6
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (I used 7 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon minced galangal or ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced hot chili, or crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder, or to taste (I used Penzeys Maharajah curry)
  • 13.5 oz fresh or canned coconut milk
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into slices
  • 6 oz baby spinach
  • 1 ½ to 2 pounds medium-to-large shrimp, peeled with tails intact
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
  • ¼ cup minced cilantro or mint leaves
  • brown Basmati rice, for serving (I used 1 1/2 cups rice to 3 cups stock)
  • naan, for serving, optional
  1. Place the oil in a large, deep skillet and turn the heat to medium. (I used enameled cast iron.)
  2. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and chilies and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and the mixture pasty.
  3. Add red pepper slices and sauté until starting to soften.
  4. Add the curry and cook, stirring, another minute.
  5. Add the coconut milk and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is nearly dry.
  6. Add the shrimp and spinach, a few pinches of salt and a little black pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp release their liquid (the mixture will become quite moist again) and turn pink, and the spinach is wilted.
  7. Add 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, stir, then taste and add the rest if necessary.
  8. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice.

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Three Cheese Crepe Manicotti

During my college days, I was lucky enough to celebrate Easter with one of my roommates and her large Italian family. It was always an amazing feast. One of the first courses served was a homemade manicotti. I’ve loved it ever since- and now think of it in the springtime.

I was drawn to the “French” twist in this version, using crêpes in lieu of pasta. They were tender and delicious. Lovely.

This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine contributed by Christine Dimmick. I adjusted the seasoning and ratios. I also modified the crêpe batter technique from using a blender to hand-whisking, and to cooking them on a lightly oiled crêpe pan, my tried and true method. This dish could be modified to include any variety of fillings in the crêpes. Next time I may incorporate spinach or mushrooms. 🙂

  • 2 cups ricotta cheese (15 ounces), preferably fresh
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella (about 6 ounces)(part-skim okay)
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped basil, plus more for garnish
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • vegetable oil, for the pans
  • 3 cups tomato sauce, preferably homemade (I used local Mamma Lombardi’s Marinara Sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  1. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta with the mozzarella, basil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, to taste.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flour and eggs until thoroughly combined. Add the water and a generous 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Whisk until smooth.
  3. Heat an 8-inch crêpe or omelet pan over moderately high heat. Using a brush, lightly oil the pan and add a small ladle of the batter (about 1/4 cup); working quickly, swirl the pan to coat it evenly.
  4. Cook until the top of the crêpe is dry and the bottom is lightly golden, about 1 minute. Flip the crêpe and cook until the bottom is lightly golden, about 20 seconds longer.
  5. Transfer the crêpe to a large plate and repeat with the remaining batter to make a total of 16 crêpes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375°, preferably on convection.
  7. Coat the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish with 1 cup of the tomato sauce.
  8. Arrange the crêpes on a work surface. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ricotta filling in a line down the center of each crêpe. Loosely roll up the crêpes, burrito-style with ends folded in, and arrange them, seam side up, side by side in the baking dish. (I placed them in 2 rows of 8 crêpes.)
  9. Pour the remaining 2 cups of tomato sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
  10. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the tomato sauce is bubbling and the manicotti are heated through.
  11. Garnish with basil, if desired. Serve piping hot.

Make Ahead: The unbaked manicotti can be refrigerated overnight. Allow up to 15 minutes longer for baking.

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Roasted Chicken Thighs over Herbed Pea & Spinach Puree

Another green sauce! The last one, for now… 🙂

This is a wonderful, quick and healthy dish. As a sauce fan, I loved the idea of serving the roasted chicken over a colorful and tasty vegetable purée.

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of bone-in, and reduced the oven temperature to accommodate roasting potatoes and asparagus simultaneously. I also incorporated pan drippings into the vegetable puree. Great.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, divided, and 1 T fresh lemon juice, plus wedges for serving, optional
  • 3 T freshly grated Pecorino Romano, divided
  • 3 T  extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup (packed) baby spinach
  • 10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, on convection roast.

  2. Cook peas in a small pot of boiling salted water 1 minute. Drain; transfer to a food processor.

  3. Add 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon juice, 1 tablespoon cheese, and 2 tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper; process until texture is similar to hummus. Add cilantro and 1 packed cup spinach; puree.

  4. Pat chicken dry; season with salt and pepper.

  5. Stir together remaining 2 tablespoons cheese and 1/2 teaspoon zest.

  6. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add chicken; cook until browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Spoon off fat and incorporate into puree, to taste. Discard excess fat left in the pan.

  7. Flip chicken and sprinkle with cheese mixture. Transfer to oven; roast until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

  8. Serve chicken over puree, with lemon wedges, if desired.

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