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.
Smoky Red Pepper Sauce ( or use 3 cups store-bought marinara)
Quick pesto drizzle:
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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