Venetian Lasagna

I'm back with new recipes, thanks to the fact that I PASSED MY DEFENSE! Yay! So that means I get to graduate with my master's and I have more time on my hands to cook. I just need to edit my thesis a bit, but still I will be able to relax more, because all the big challenges are behind me.

What better way is there to celebrate my triumph than to make a delicious dinner for my friends and myself? I decided to do a Venetian-themed feast thanks to my family heritage and also because I've lately been inspired by some of Nigella Lawson's new recipes. She has a new show on Food Network called Nigella Kitchen and I'm in love with it. She was also on the Today Show three days in a row last week, preparing some main course dishes. One of them was a Venetian Lasagna, named so because it used polenta instead of pasta, because polenta is used more prevalently in Northern Italy. Because of the use of polenta, this happens to be a gluten-free version of lasagna. For dinner tonight, I decided to give this a try. Because I knew I'd be teaching late, I assembled this on Sunday and let it sit in the refrigerator until I was ready to bake it.

As Nigella said on the show, you can use whatever ingredients available to make the sauce. I couldn't find dried mushrooms, so I used fresh, then didn't use the water required to reconstitute the dried mushrooms.  I also added more herbs than she did because my mom used a lot of different herbs in her pasta sauce, so I got used to a strong herb flavor. I left all the veggies in a course dice, which made for a nice texture against the creamy polenta. I wish I had assembled two lasagnas, because between my five friends and I, we devoured the whole thing. This recipe received overwhelmingly positive reviews from my friends. As my honey said, this was the best thing I've cooked since the last time I cooked, lol.

Venetian Lasagna
Printable Recipe

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
8 oz cremini mushrooms, diced
1 lb extra lean ground beef
3/4 cup low-sodium beef broth, red wine, or marsala
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 13.5-oz can petite diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cups instant polenta
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth, or enough to cook your polenta according to package directions (can also be made with chicken bouillon and water)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large saucepan, add the oil and the garlic. Turn the heat to medium and cook the garlic until it becomes fragrant. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and mushrooms and cook until they are softened.
2. Add the beef to the cooked vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Let the meat brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or fork.
3. Add the beef broth, wine, or marsala and scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the tomato paste and diced tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, basil, and oregano; season with salt and pepper.
4. Allow to simmer 45 min-1 hour.
5. Meanwhile, prepare 3 pans for the polenta layers: in 3 13x9x2-inch pans, dampen them with water (one of these pans will be the one you bake the lasagna in)
6. Prepare the polenta according to package directions, adding the butter and 3/4 Parmesan cheese once the polenta is finished cooking. Divide the polenta amongst the pans and allow to cool completely until the polenta congeals into a sheet.
7. In the pan you are baking the lasagna in, add half the meat sauce over top the bottom polenta layer. Peel off one of the polenta sheets and add it on top. Add the remaining meat sauce, then the final polenta layer. Finish with the remaining cheese.
8. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 40 minutes. This lasagna can be prepared ahead of time. Allow 1 hour of baking time for a cold lasagna.

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