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Writing about food is not easy. Even though there are thousands of food bloggers out there making it seem like it’s a dime-a-dozen kind of activity. Cooking food, as you know, is also not easy. It’s definitely not all rosewater and frosting here in the Bread & Beta kitchen. Dinner the other night was a perfect example of this. I’m not sure why, when I started cooking after 7pm, I thought, “let’s make something completely from scratch that’s sort of involved and take pictures while I go!” But I did. And so, I have a new recipe post to share with you. When it finally came out of the oven, Mike and I were really excited to try my casserole concoction, although by the time we sat down, it was so late that we probably would have enjoyed PB&J or cardboard!

I’ve been utilizing the oven more and more for cooking lately. The weather has changed and I want warmer hearty foods, but it’s also just so easy! Once that dish is dropped in there, it’s like hands-off cooking. I’m free to do other things like clean the mountain of dishes I made, set the table, prepare a side dish, or even *gasp* relax.

Upon first tasting this out of the oven, it was good- but not great. While eating it, I just kept thinking of recipe variations to improve it, tasting the gaps in flavor, and what I did wrong. I was rushed. I didn’t have quite enough of this ingredient or that. Inspiration came from a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It was a starting off point that perhaps I should have followed more closely. But, as we all do, I used the recipe to guide my cooking based on what I had available, and what my taste preferences are. Perhaps I should have doubled the herbs and spices, as I seemed to double everything else. Or, perhaps I should have just enjoyed the meal for what it was and not been so absorbed in thinking about variations!

Polenta Casserole
I had the leftovers for lunch the next day. I was surprised at how good it really was. Maybe the flavors just needed a little longer to meld together overnight. If you prepare the polenta beforehand this would actually make a quick weeknight meal. Maybe I should add this to our rotation of regular meals, after all. I’ll let you be the judge.

Polenta Casserole
serves 4-6 as a main, 6-8 as a side dish

For the Polenta
2 c. corn meal
2. tsp. salt
6-8 c. water (I used 8 c. and the polenta was still fairly soft, if you use less water, the polenta will be firmer)

For the Filling
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
8-10 mushrooms, sliced
12 baby carrots, sliced into rounds
1/2 bunch broccoli, finely chopped
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
15 cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 c. water
2 small bay leaves
1 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. basil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. chili powder (adjust quantity to taste)
4 eggs
1/4 c. milk (soy or almond milk for alternative)
parsley, to decorate

eggs

Make the Polenta
1. Bring water to a boil in a medium sized stock pan, add salt.
2. Slowly pour in cornmeal, stirring as you add. This will prevent lumps.
3. Lower heat to a simmer.
4. Stir every few minutes, to prevent lumps.
5. Polenta will be done in 35-45 minutes. You will notice it thicken up and become smooth. Taste it to see if it’s to your liking. The longer you cook it, the firmer it will become.
6. Prepare a baking dish – 9×13 by lightly oiling it (olive or vegetable oil)

Spread polenta into dish
7. When polenta is done, pour half of it into the prepared baking dish. Spread it out with the back of a spoon or spatula.
8. Keep remaining polenta over low heat, stirring occasionally to keep it soft.

Preheat oven to 400F

prepare vegetables
While the polenta cooks, make the Filling
1. Mince garlic, cut up veggies.
2. Dissolve tomato paste in water and set aside.
3. Heat large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil.
4. When oil is hot, add bay leaves. Crush remaining dried herbs in your hand, marjoram, thyme and basil, and then add to oil as well. Cook for 1-2 minutes in oil to let the herbs release flavors.
5. Add mushrooms. Stir until they cook down and start to become golden (5-7 min?)
6. Add garlic and carrots. Sautee and let them cook until the carrots start to become softer – maybe another 3-4 minutes?

sauté mushrooms and carrots
7. Add broccoli. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
8. Add tomatoes, tomato paste liquid, salt and black beans.
9. Stir all together and let the flavors meld. mmmmmm.
10. Crack eggs in a bowl, whisk them together with the milk, set aside.
11. Add chili powder. I used just a sprinkle or two as I wanted to have a little of the flavor, but no heat.
12. Cook for a few more minutes until everything is combined, broccoli has turned bright green, but isn’t yet fully soft.

Assemble Casserole
12. Add filling to polenta in baking dish.

Add a layer of filling
13. Pour egg mixture over filling, distributing as evenly as you can.
14. Top off filling with remaining polenta. This gets a little tricky. I found that carefully spooned ladle-fulls let me distribute the polenta evenly to cover all the filling.
15. Decorate top with parsley.
16. Bake in oven for 20 minutes until everything is bubbling.
17. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before eating. Yum.

Recipe Notes:
I think this is pretty good on its own, but is even better as a side dish. Maybe that was my initial disappointment with it. It also is greatly enhanced by the addition of grated cheese on top – doesn’t parmesan make everything better? I would also suggest doubling the amount of herbs to really let the flavors come through.

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