It's amazing the ideas that present themselves when a woman's enduring sleep deprivation due to the joys of growing older. The early hours of the morning - like from 1 through 4 or until the alarm goes off at 5 are spent contemplating a multitude of things including but not limited to the state of the economy and world peace.
Take last night's dinner for example. We really loved Anne Burrell's Hard Polenta Cakes that we cooked up a while ago and I've been trying to think up a way to have a repeat without it being an identical to what we had before. Since I also happened to have a container of leftover meat sauce hiding in the freezer from a week ago and the kitchen held the makings for a bechamel sauce, I figured I'd just combine them all into one casserole. We've had gnocchi this way, and pasta too so why not polenta? Do ya' follow?
Behold the results - smooth and creamy on the inside and crispy fried on the outside rounds of polenta on a bed of rich, creamy, cheesy bechamel sauce topped with spicy meaty tomato sauce, garnished with sliced hot Italian sausage and circles of fresh mozzarella baked until hot and bubbling. Food for the hungry masses, wouldn't ya say?
1 recipe hard polenta cakes (see below)
1 recipe prepared béchamel sauce (see below)
2 cups spicy meat sauce (reheated)
1 link hot Italian sausage, sliced into coins and browned
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a shallow casserole dish well with butter. Place 2/3 of béchamel sauce on bottom of casserole, spreading evenly. Arrange crisp fried polenta cakes on top of béchamel. Top with remaining béchamel sauce followed by spicy meat sauce. Arrange sausage coins on top and add sliced mozzarella. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes until casserole is hot and bubbling.
Hard Polenta Cakes
1 cup whole milk plus additional 2/3 cup
2 cups water (and more as needed)
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt (more or less depending on taste)
1 cup polenta
1/4 cup cream cheese
4 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese plus additional for garnish
Olive oil for frying
In a medium saucepan heat 1 cup milk, water, cayenne and salt over medium heat until boiling. Whisk in polenta and lower heat to medium low then using a wooden spoon, stir polenta until thickened. Slowly incorporate additional 2/3 cup milk, stirring constantly and continue to cook until polenta thickens again and is very smooth. If the texture is grainy, add more liquid and continue to cook until smooth and thick. (Takes about 15 minutes).
Remove from heat and stir cream cheese and parmesan. Move to 9 x 13 sheet pan lined with plastic wrap and spread evenly. Cover well and refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours).
To serve, remove from plastic and cut into 2 inch rounds. Heat approximately a quarter inch of oil in a heavy skillet until very hot. Carefully add cut polenta and cook in batches without crowding the pan and without moving for 3-4 minutes or until browned and crisp on one side. Flip over and continue to cook until browned on other side. Move rounds to a paper towel and hold until needed.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, heated
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
Coarse ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not allow flour to brown. Slowly whisk in hot milk and add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook, whisking constantly until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese.
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