Thursday, February 14, 2008

Layered Eggplant and Polenta Casserole

Man, I love the smell of basil. I killed the basil plant I bought last fall but I'm thinking of getting another so I'll think to cook with it more often (but I'll probably just kill it too). This recipe made me happy because it was a great excuse to use basil, plus it was a nice vegetarian alternative to the meat lasagna I usually make. Also, I got to use my polenta recipe and my grill pan! Yes, it's the little things...

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds fresh or canned plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh oregano
3/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 pounds medium eggplant, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds

One 16-ounce log precooked polenta, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds (or, make your own polenta).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in upper third. (I don't do this until 15 minutes out.)

1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring, until soft and lightly golden, about 8 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in vinegar, oregano, and basil; season with pepper. Remove sauce from heat.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large cast-iron skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Lightly brush eggplant slices with the remaining tablespoon oil. Working in batches, lay slices in skillet in a single layer; cook until browned and they begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. (Start step 3 while you're sauce is simmering.)

4. Spoon about A cup tomato sauce into a 9-inch square baking dish, spreading to coat evenly. Arrange eggplant slices snugly in a single layer. Spoon about 1 cup tomato sauce over eggplant, and arrange polenta rounds in slightly overlapping slices on top. Repeat with sauce and another layer of eggplant. Finish by dotting with remaining tomato sauce.

5. Cover with foil; bake until bubbling and juicy, about 30 minutes. Remove foil; continue baking until sauce is lightly caramelized and eggplant is tender, about 15 minutes more. Remove from oven; let cool slightly, and serve.

I made this in two pyrex dishes and froze the second. It's a lot of eggplant and polenta for two people and I'll look forward to reheating it one night that I don't have time to cook. Next time I make it I'll probably add some mozzarella on top.

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