Hearty and delicious Polenta Lasagna with Smoky Red Pepper Sauce – a simple easy, gluten-free lasagna recipe using store-bought polenta. A vegan adaptable main dish – perfect for holiday gatherings, that can be made ahead!
And now I understand something so frightening & wonderful- how the mind clings to the road it knows, rushing through crossroads, sticking like lint to the familiar. ~Mary Oliver
Here’s a very simple recipe for Polenta Lasagna with a smoky Roasted Red Bell Pepper Sauce that is hearty, robust and full of flavor! Using polenta instead of pasta keeps this gluten-free. This version is filled with a savory mixture of mushrooms and spinach, but other veggies work well here too – eggplant, peppers, zucchini, roasted butternut squash. Keep it vegetarian, make it vegan ( tofu ricotta and vegan cheese) or feel free to add Italian sausage for extra heartiness. I know you will find your own creative way to make good use of this! And please share how you adapt this in the comments below!
It starts with cooking the “filling” for the lasagna. This could be sautéing veggies like mushrooms, or zucchini and eggplant in olive oil with garlic and onion, or roasting off slices of eggplant or butternut squash in the oven. You could also brown some spicy Italian sausage.
I always like to throw in handfuls of chopped greens to bump up the nutrition factor.
Spinach, arugula or kale is nice.
While the veggies are cooking make the quick Smoky Red Pepper Sauce.
Roasted peppers and diced tomatoes go into the blender along with some of the sautéed onion and garlic from the skillet, and some olive oil.
Blend this into a creamy sauce.
I like to add a little smoked paprika, to give it a hint of smoky flavor.
If pressed for time, you can always use store-bought marinara sauce.
In this recipe, to simplify and make things easier, I’m also using store-bought polenta in a tube. It’s also very easy to make your own firm polenta and I’ll put the directions in the recipe notes. I’ve made it both ways, and both ways work great.
Slice the tubes in half first, then cut each side into 6 equal pieces about ½ inch thick. Each tube will give you 12 slices.
Then begin your layering.
Start with 1 cup of the sauce on a greased 9×13 inch baking dish.
Add the first layer of polenta.
Top with all of your filling. Here I’m using mushrooms and spinach.
Dot with 6-8 ounces of ricotta cheese. You could also make this totally vegan by using vegan tofu ricotta.
Sprinkle with 1 – 1 ½ cups of shredded mozzarella. You could also use vegan cheese.
Pour ¾ cup of sauce over the cheese.
Top with the final layer of ricotta.
Pour the remaining sauce over top.
You can keep it fairly lean like this or top with more mozzarella, up to you.
Cover tightly with foil and bake at 400 F for 25 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for 20-25 more minutes, or until bubbly and sauce has thickened slightly.
Drizzle with pesto, using either store-bought, or homemade – I’ll give a quick recipe in the recipe notes.
Hope you enjoy this hearty vegetarian polenta lasagna!
Polenta Lasagna with Smoky Red Pepper Sauce
Vegetarian Polenta Lasagna with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce – an easy gluten-free lasagna recipe with the option to use store-bought polenta from a tube. Vegan Adaptable or add Italian sausage for extra heartiness.
- Prep Time: 45
- Cook Time: 45
- Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Yield: 8
- Category: main, vegetarain, vegan adaptable
- Method: baked
- Cuisine: italian
- 2 x 18 ounce tubes of polenta ( store bought). See notes for making your own.
- 4-8 ounces of Ricotta ( or sub this vegan tofu ricotta )
- 1-2 cups grated mozzarella cheese ( or use smoked mozzarella for great flavor, jack, or use vegan cheese)
- Generous pinch salt, pepper and nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- one onion, diced
- 4-6 garlic cloves, rough chopped
- 16-20 ounces mushrooms ( sliced) or sub other veggies ( eggplant, peppers, zucchini – you’ll need about 3 -4 cups cooked) You could also roast veggies in the oven- butternut, eggplant, etc.
- 2 heaping handfuls baby spinach, chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste
Smoky Red Pepper Sauce ( or use 3 cups store-bought marinara)
- 8 ounce jar roasted red peppers ( 2 large red bell peppers roasted, or about 2 cups roasted)
- 1 can diced tomatoes ( fire roasted adds great flavor) and their juices (or use tomato puree)
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional, if you want a smoky flavor)
- Salt and Pepper to taste (this depends on the tomatoes you use, with the fire roasted tomatoes, it didn’t need any salt.)
Quick pesto drizzle:
- 1 cup packed basil
- 1-2 teaspoons lemon zest
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 fat garlic clove
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 ( prep and assembly will take around 45 minutes)
Heat 1-2 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute the onion, stirring until tender, about 5 minutes, add garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Place ½ of the cooked onion garlic mixture in a blender for the sauce. ( If using store bought sauce, just leave it all in the skillet.) Turn skillet to medium ( or medium low) and add the mushrooms ( or other veggies) and salt, and saute until they release their liquid and are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
While these are cooking, make the sauce. Add the diced tomatoes ( and juices) to the blender (along with the cooked onions and garlic) and add the drained roasted peppers. Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil. This gives the sauce a delicious creamy richness. Add the smoked paprika. Blend until creamy and smooth. If the sauce is too thick to get motor running add a little water ( a tablespoon at a time) just to get it going. Taste. It should have a sweet smoky flavor. Season with salt and pepper.
Prep the two tubes of polenta. ( Remember to taste it) It’s easiest to cut the tube in half. Then in quarters, so each quarter yields 3 equal slices. So 12 slices each from each tube.
Toss the spinach in the filling and wilt. Adjust salt and pepper and make sure it tastes flavorful. Began assembling.
Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with olive oil. Place one cup sauce on the bottom, coating evenly. Add the first layer of polenta. Top with all the filling, spreading it out evenly. Dot with spoonfuls of ricotta. Sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Top with shredded cheese. Pour ¾ cup sauce lightly over the cheese. Then top with final layer of polenta. Pour remaining sauce over top, using a spatula to coat the polenta evenly.
At this point you could add more cheese, or keep it a little leaner, up to you. Cover tightly with foil and bake 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered for 20-25 more minutes until bubbly and sauce thickens. While it’s baking make the Pesto Drizzle.
To make the pesto drizzle, simply place ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined.
When the polenta lasagna is finished cooking you could drizzle it lightly with the pesto or serve it on the side.
Keep in mind, not all store bought polenta tastes the same. The Trader Joe’s brand is very flavorful. Your best bet is to cut a tiny piece off the end and taste it. If it tastes bland, you will need to bump up the flavor and salt in the filling and sauce. Things like garlic powder, onion powder and herbs help, and most importantly salt. The pesto drizzle will help a lot too.
To make your own firm polenta, bring 8 cups water to a boil in a medium pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt and any herbs you like ( dried rosemary, thyme, herbs de provence). When water is boiling, very slowly pour and whisk in 2 cups corn meal, whisking out any clumps. Cover, turn heat to low and cook 20-25 minutes, stirring a couple times. Grease a sheet pan with olive oil ( roughly 13x 18 inch, with edges) really well. Grease a flat metal spatula really well. Pour out the polenta so it’s ½-¾ inch thick – noting, you will not need to use the whole pan, so start on one end. If the polenta sticks to the spatula, just pour a little olive oil over the polenta, coating the spatula with it. Flatten it out to an even thickness. I usually cover about ¾ of a large 13 x 18 inch sheet pan (leaving 3 inches of the sheet pan bare- because if you stretch it to fill the whole pan, polenta may be too thin). Let cool, then refrigerate until very firm, about 3 hours, or overnight ( or up to 3 days). Cut into 24 , 2 ½ inch squares- or you could cut out 16, 4-inch squares. If you end up with some smaller scraps, I usually just tuck these in the lasagna in the first, base layer, underneath so they don’t show, leaving the prettier cuts for the top layer. 🙂
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