I’m always up for trying new recipes, so when I saw this Polenta Layer Cake With Meat Sauce, I made it.  It was good, but it took up most of two evenings to make it.  30 minutes just stirring the polenta?  It was good, but I don’t want to spend hours over the stove to make what is essentially a casserole.  On the other hand, we did really like it.

So I simplified the recipe, thinking I could come up with a less labor-intensive version.  This is that version.

The polenta is easy – you can put it in the crockpot.   Boil 6 cups of water, and pour it into the crock.  The recipe says to grease the crock first, but I think the boiling water melts it all off anyway.  Add the polenta, some salt, and butter, and cook for 4-6 hours.  I try to remember to stir it every hour, but it’ll still work if you don’t – you just might have a few lumps.

When it’s done, grease a 13×9 pan.  Cut a piece of parchment paper just slightly larger then the pan, and grease both sides of it.  A spray-on grease will work, butter is better.  Spread half the polenta in the bottom of the pan, then lay down the parchment paper, and spread the other half on top.

Polenta Lasagna

Put it in the fridge to chill for a few hours. 

In the meantime, make the sauce.  I chopped up a bell pepper, some carrots, some celery, an onion, and garlic, but you can use whatever you have in the fridge.  Brown the sausage in a Dutch oven, then drain it and set it aside.  Sauté the vegetables in some olive oil until soft.  Add the sausage back, then add a big can of diced tomatoes, juice and all, and some Italian seasoning and let it simmer for half an hour.  It would be nice if you stirred it every once in a while, but you don’t have to. 

When the half hour is up, add a 6-ounce can of tomato paste, fresh basil, and a pound of sliced mushrooms.  Simmer another 10 minutes until it’s thickened.  Salt to taste.

You could skip this entirely, and use 6 cups of your favorite meat sauce instead.   But I like homemade tomato sauces.

When you’re ready to assemble, just lift off the top layer of polenta, parchment paper and all:

Polenta Lasagna

Spread half the sauce on top:

Polenta Lasagna

Put the other polenta layer on top (without the parchment paper, please!):

Polenta Lasagna

Add the rest of the sauce, and spread the cheese over the top.

Polenta Lasagna

Bake at 350F until browned and bubbly.

Polenta Lasagna

And serve.  It’s best with warm, crusty bread.

Polenta Lasagna

It’s even better the next day.  I was just as happy with my version as the longer version, and I’m much more likely to make this.  To make it even easier, you could make the sauce in bulk and freeze it, then just thaw it out while the polenta cooks. 

( see the recipe )

"The word gnocchi means "lumps", and may derive from nocchio, a knot in the wood, or from nocca (knuckle)."

This is exactly what every one of my previous attempts at gnocchi has come out like:  A lump of wood.  I’ve tried a bunch of recipes.  I bought a potato ricer just for making gnocchi.  And every single time, I got dense, chewy, tasteless lumps.  I’d had good gnocchi – the best ever was from a little restaurant way off the beaten track in Niagara Falls – but somehow I kept failing at it.

So I gave up.

Then I saw a post from Vanilla Garlic about their lemon gnocchi.  It had two interesting features – lemon, which I can never resist, and a distinct lack of potatoes.  It made me wonder – maybe the potatoes had been my problem all along?  Maybe leaving them out was the answer!



It was certainly easy enough to assemble – put all the ingredients on a cutting board, and knead them all together. Then roll it out into a log (I had flashbacks of PlayDough snakes), and cut it into 1/2 inch logs.  Mine came out a bit bigger then that, but close enough.

Lemon Gnocchi

Then toss them into a pot of boiling water until they float. Leave them alone for another two minutes.  I couldn’t resist trying one as soon as it was cool enough to eat – and it was perfect.  They would have been good with just olive oil and a bit of cheese, but I found a lemon-artichoke pesto, which worked great. 

Lemon Gnocchi

I’m still not sure if it was the lack of potatoes that made the difference, or maybe I’ve just gotten better since my last attempt, but these were really good.  Great texture, just enough lemon to be interesting, but not enough to be overpowering.  Definitely going in my dinner rotation!

( see the recipe )

Kitchen Lighting System

So I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about lighting in my kitchen. I don’t have a usable window, and I only have one overhead light. I keep putting bigger and bigger bulbs in it, but it’s still rarely enough light. Everything come out dark and very slightly blurry because of the long shutter times.

Clearly, I needed more light. I’ve looked at some of the commercial systems, but they’re all bulky and/or expensive, and I didn’t want to spend several hundred dollars on lights.

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