Corny but Good

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You Obies out there may recall the Foxgrape Restaurant in downtown Oberlin. I suspect it was the place where you’d take your folks on Parents Weekend when Weia Teia was booked. I guess you could say it had its share of loyal fans… ok, maybe one loyal fan who parked her long face and faded flower-print skirt by the window every day for lunch. She had the time to wait for the servers to slice the bread and make the sandwiches and screech out steamed milk for espresso drinks while also tending to tables.

Well, I worked at the Foxgrape. And lemme tell you, for all its shortcomings, the sous chef could really make a mean polenta lasagna. Pair that with some of the housemade pumpernickel bread and white bean soup, maybe a side salad with the ginger peanut dressing, and you actually had yourself a meal to rival Weia’s pad Thai or a Black River Cafe omelet.

Here’s my version, which I made for Shabbat dinner guests last week. You can do just like the picture above by serving it with a salad of black beans, purple and red peppers, and fresh corn (this had a simple lime juice and garlic dressing) and a new potato salad with Balsamic vinaigrette, dill flowers, and capers. But the lasagna is a meal in itself. (Click to keep reading for the recipe).

Polenta Lasagna

(Loosey goosey recipe version)

About 3 cups tomato sauce
Polenta,* sliced about 1/2″ thick or to your liking — I think I made the slabs too thick with mine on Friday
1-2 cups steamed greens (spinach, kale, arugula, baby asian greens, or a mixture flavored with a little salt and toasted pine nuts)
1-2 cups or so of some other kind of veggie like sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and/or pan fried summer squash
1 cup ricotta cheese, which you can mix with herbs and a beaten egg, optional (I didn’t use any)
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced or low moisture mozz, shredded

Adjust amounts depending on how many people you want to feed. This ended up being too much for my group of six.

In a 9×12 baking dish (or smaller one for individual lasagna), spread a thin layer of tomato sauce.

Top with slice/slab of polenta, then a layer of steamed greens, then the other veggies, then about half of the cheese. Pour another thin layer of tomato sauce over that, then add a top layer of polenta. It’ll actually look more like a sandwich than lasagna at this point. You can just cover the top with sauce and cheese or continue on to make another layer.

Then bake, covered but making sure the foil or other covering doesn’t touch the cheese so it won’t stick, at 300 for 30 minutes or so, or until it’s warmed through and the cheese has begun to melt. (Bake a little longer if you’re using the ricotta mixture, so the egg can firm up). Uncover and put under the broiler for a few minutes to thoroughly melt and brown the cheese.

Slice and serve, or slice and wrap in foil to freeze for later.

*To make your own polenta, boil 4 cups water, then add 1 tsp. salt and some dried oregano or basil. As the water boils, add 1 cup polenta (course corn meal or corn grits) in a steady stream with one hand while whisking (preferably with this whisk) with the other. Bring down to a simmer and continue to simmer and stir with a wooden spoon for about 20 minutes, or until the mixture is thick enough to hold your spoon up for a few seconds. Mix in about 1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil, if desired. Pour into oiled loaf pans, about 1/2 deep, or an oiled baking pan, and then refrigerate for a few hours. The polenta will firm up and be easy to use like lasagna noodles, or fry up, or mash into a corn mush.

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