Polenta Lasagna

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I always wanted to try polenta ever since I seen it on an Italian cooking show…you know the type of scene, in a cozy Italian kitchen, with the hot polenta being poured out onto a large table?

Half way through this video you will see an Italian rural couple preparing polenta.

Well, I spied these babies at the market and I couldn’t resist trying a new thing. Right there- on the package- came my inspiration for how I would prepare it. On the label was a simple lasagna recipe. I added a few embellishments.

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This makes a large, very hearty, lasagna.

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Ingredients:

1.5 kg polenta, sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 pound minced lean beef or poultry

1 red chili pepper, seeds removed, minced

6 cups plain tomato sauce

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp tarragon

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large zucchini, sliced

1 small red onion

3 cups grated marble cheese

2 cups sliced button mushrooms

2 tbsp olive oil

Method:

Grate cheese and slice polenta and veggies, and set aside. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and brown the meat with garlic, chili, spices, salt, and pepper. Add in the tomato sauce. Set on a low simmer.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take a 13 x 9 inch pan and pour in a thin layer of sauce, followed by the first layer of polenta. Layer on veggies and mushrooms, spreading evenly. Layer on 1 cup of cheese. Layer more polenta, followed by sauce, followed by veggies and mushrooms, followed by 1 cup of cheese, followed by polenta- veggies- sauce-  ending with the last cup of cheese. It’s not crucial how you layer this, as long as the sauce is spread out and you end with cheese near the top.

Loosely tent with foil and bake in middle of oven for 30 minutes or until bubbling throughout. Feeds 6-8. This makes delicious leftovers!

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: Italian Wedding Soup & Olive Garden Knock-Off Breadsticks

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This soup was so yummy! It is adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe.

The main components of Italian Wedding Soup are the greens and the meat. Ina had a whopping 12 ounces of spinach in her soup. I ended up using 8 ounces as I wanted my soup a bit brothier.

Traditionally wedding soup has beef and pork in the meatballs. In this, I use ground turkey instead.  It is preference, but it is lighter and healthier. For healthier yet, you can use lean ground chicken, which is what Ina uses.

To pair with Italian soup, of course, I wanted breadsticks…the kind they serve at Olive Garden. This was my first attempt at breadsticks. I have always been intimidated making bread, but now I can’t wait to do it again! My daughters even got in on the fun and made their own.

Ingredients for meatballs:

3/4 pound ground turkey

1/2  pound turkey sausage, casings removed

2/3 cup white bread crumbs

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan

3 tablespoons milk

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Ingredients for soup:

2 tbsp olive oil

10 cups chicken broth

1 cup diced carrots (1/4”)

1 cup diced celery (1/4”)

1 cup minced onion

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup small pasta or 2 cups farfalle (bow-tie) pasta

8 oz baby spinach, trimmed

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

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For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Parmesan, milk, egg,  and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork. Roll into 1” balls and place onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (You should have about 40 meatballs). Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

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For the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil.

Add the farfalle pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 8 minutes (less time if using tiny pasta-adjust accordingly), then add the fresh dill and meatballs to the soup. Simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper.

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Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan cheese. This will serve a dozen people.

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                                                           Olive Garden Knock-Off Bread Sticks

*Make these ahead of the soup, and warm before serving.

Ingredients:

1 package active dry yeast

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour,plus more for dusting

2 tablespoons butter,softened

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 tsp fine salt

warm water to make dough (see below)

Ingredients for Butter-Herb topping:

3 tablespoons butter,melted * some of this is for brushing the buns before baking (see below)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method:

Make the dough: Place 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a mixer; sprinkle in the yeast and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, butter, sugar, fine salt and 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water; mix with the paddle attachment until a slightly sticky dough forms. This takes about 5 minutes.

Knead the dough by hand until very smooth and soft, 3 minutes. Roll into a 2-foot-long log; cut into sixteen  1 1/2-inch-long pieces. Knead each piece slightly and shape into a 7-inch-long breadstick; arrange 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover with a cloth; let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Make the topping: Brush the breadsticks with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt with the garlic powder and oregano. Brush the warm breadsticks with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle with the garlic flavored salt.

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