Thursday, May 30, 2013

Another Engine 2 Recipe - Polenta Bake

With the hot weather upon us (90's this week! After 40's last week.), I'm looking for foods that cook up well either on the stovetop or microwave oven. Back in June 2012, the Engine 2 blog, The Daily Beet, had an entire post on one-dish meals, and every one of them I've tried so far can be easily made in the microwave as well as regular oven. I've already written about a couple of them, such as the Mexican Layered Casserole, and here's another from that post, Polenta Bake. It's similar to the others in the basic formula - tomatoes - starch - veg 1 - veg 2 - more tomatoes - spices. They're the oven version of the Jeff Novick SNAP meals.

Polenta Bake 
Pre-heat oven to 350
1 thin layer of chopped tomatoes
1 layer of sliced polenta rounds
1 layer of sliced mushrooms
1 layer frozen spinach
1 layer chopped tomatoes (thin layer)
Sprinkle with Italian seasoning
Bake for 35 minutes or until the mushrooms look done.

I used the plain, unflavored polenta, but next time will probably use an Italian seasoned one.

For the tomatoes I chose 2 15-oz. cans of diced unsalted. For the first layer I just put the juices from both cans down, then the polenta, and then dumped the first can on that. If you like things spicy, try a can of Rotel or other flavored tomato for one or both cans.

Cremini instead of white buttoned tomatoes, and I shopped them up into small pieces instead of slices, only because I was running out of room in my casserole dish. 

The spinach was defrosted and squeezed before I put it in the casserole dish. I only did that because I took the spinach out of the freezer, got distracted and had to do something else before making the casserole, and by the time I actually went to start it, the spinach was defrosted (I said it was hot yesterday!) so I just gave it a good drain and squeeze in a colander.

As for spices, not only did I use my trusty Penzey Italian Herbs Seasoning, but I also added about half a teaspoon of what used to be called Penzey's Italian Dressing Mix but it now known as Italian Vinegar and Oil, even though it contains neither vinegar nor oil but is dry, like the Good Seasonings packets of dressing mix. It did add a little more taste but next time I'll skip it and add spice with flavored tomatoes.

I thought it lacked something, so added a can of rinsed and drained cannellini beans on top of the spinach layer. I'm glad I did.

After I popped the glass lid on I shoved this in the microwave, set it for 15 minutes on HIGH, then walked away, feeling smug that I'm making a hot meal for the family without making the kitchen any hotter than it already was.

My smugness was short-lived. Alas, this is another recipe with no photo because I was embarrassed at the mess. Even with squeezing out the spinach and chopping the mushrooms into smaller pieces, this loaded my big Corningware oval casserole dish,
and as it heated and bubbled, it bubbled it's way out of the dish, along the glass lid, and across the round microwave carousel plate. I caught it before it managed to overflow the plate. By the time I got it cleaned up my husband was already home, changed out of his office clothes, played with the mail, and was ready to sit down and eat, so I had no time to make the dish pretty and grab the camera. Take my word for it, you've seen one overflowing tomato-based casserole you've seen them all! LOL

What will I do different next time? Well, use the larger pan, the one I use for lasagna, first off. A flavored polenta (or make my own), a can of Rotel, skip the salad dressing spices. I might add a few sliced - olives, black or green - and if I'm out shopping the day I make it again, I'll grab a loaf of crusty Italian bread to sop up all the juices.

Thanks, Engine 2 Team, for another winner!

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