It’s a shame to throw away leftover polenta. There are so many delicious ways to use it. As mentioned in an earlier post on how to make polenta, it hardens as it cools and can be sliced into squares or other shapes, then grilled or fried. But my favorite way to use leftover polenta is to layer polenta slices with sauce and baked them like a kind of rustic lasagne. This polenta pasticciata uses a kind of polenta that I have not yet blogged about:
- 500g (1 lb) polenta
- 250g (1/2 lb) Savoy cabbage, shredded
- 1 medium onion, slice sliced
- 250g (1/2 lb) boiled or canned beans, preferably borlotti
- 500ml (2 cups) of Béchamel sauce
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Polenta that is made in the usual way, following the master recipe, but about halfway through cooking, you add Savoy cabbage that has been shredded and sweated in butter with some finely sliced onion until quite soft. Then, just a few minutes before serving, you stir in some boiled beans (preferably borlotti, but I used some cannellini that I had on hand). It is one of my favorite of the ‘flavored’ polentas. This polenta is so flavorful that it needs no sauce.
When using leftover polenta to make polenta pasticciata con fagioli e verza, you place a layer of polenta at the bottom of a buttered baking dish, then top it with a generous layer of béchamel sprinkled with a bit of grated parmesan cheese. Repeat until you’ve used up your ingredients and end with a nice layer of béchamel topped with a generous sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese. Bake in a hot oven (200C, 400F) for about 15-20 minutes, until the top is nicely browned and the sauce and cheese are bubbling merrily along. Let the polenta pasticciata rest a few minutes to cool off and ‘settle’ before serving.
I rather like making this polenta pasticciata in individual terracotta bowls, of the kind that you eat minestrone or French onion soup in. If you do, placing all the bowls on cookie sheet, so they can all be put in and taken out of the oven at one time, will save you some time and trouble. It also makes for a lovely presentation, as each diner gets to dig into their crusty polenta themselves.
If you like, use another kind of cheese, such as a fontina or a gruyère, instead of or in addition to the parmesan.
There are many types of polenta pasticciata: Perhaps the most popular is to layer your polenta is like lasagna alla bolognese, with alternating layers of béchamel and ragù. But there are other ways to make polenta pasticciata, alla valdostana, for example: layered with fontina cheese and topped with lots of melted cheese before baking in a hot oven until golden brown or alla tirolese—Tyrolean baked polenta—layered with anchovy butter.
There are also many types of flavored polentas, including a Tuscan one, very similar to this one, called polenta con fagioli e cavolo nero, made with beans and ‘black kale’, usually called Tuscan kale in English. Tuscan kale is a typically Tuscan green that is used in countless soups and other dishes. I have occasionally found it in farmer’s markets and even, once or twice, in my local supermarket. Its leaves are rather flatter and longer, and more tender, than the curly kale you are likely to find elsewhere. But I digress… we have another month or two of cold weather, and many polenta dishes to blog about!