It’s that casserole time of year again, when common sense dictates that dark, damp and thoroughly miserable days should end in carb-rich, cheesy and thoroughly cozy meals.
On days like those, I sit around and wonder if another layer of ricotta would somehow shorten the sleety, icy weeks that remain until spring — or at least make me forget about them at dinnertime. This soft, dense polenta casserole, constructed like a lasagna but without the noodles, might do just that
On the surface, it looks just like a traditional lasagna, a blanket of brown-edged mozzarella tucked into the red sauce. But cut yourself a slice, and you’ll see the difference. Separating the creamy ricotta layers are thick, yellow stripes of polenta speckled green with spinach. With its gentle corn flavor, the polenta offers a sweet contrast to the savory tomato sauce, along with a pleasingly nubby texture that’s firm but not chewy.
The polenta may also come as a surprise. And that’s part of the appeal, especially now during our collective cooking rut, when many of us are craving something that’s novel but still familiar and comforting.
Making this recipe isn’t hard, but it does take time. You’ll need to cook the polenta on the stove, then bake it until firm before assembling the dish. (If it’s more convenient, you could do all that the day before.) The colder the polenta is when you layer it, the less likely it is to break apart. But don’t worry too much: If a piece of polenta falls off or cracks, just smush it back onto the slab. No one will notice after the casserole is baked, a gorgeous molten thing, capped with gooey cheese.
Be sure to get a good brand of marinara sauce, preferably one with chunky bits of tomato, for the deepest flavor. Or even better, if you have homemade marinara sauce stowed away in the freezer, use it here.
This recipe makes a lot of servings, possibly more than the number of members in your household. But leftovers freeze well. Pull them out when you need something warming and rich to get you through the rest of this winter, which will, thankfully, eventually end.