For most people, the only time lasagna lands on the weeknight table is when they prepare it ahead during the weekend. Or when it came out of a box.
Even the no-boil noodles usually are too much trouble for Monday-through-Friday cooking. That's why I like to use prepared polenta (the sort sold in shelf-stable tubes). Using polenta instead of noodles not only is faster and easier, but it also produces a heartier meal.
Because the polenta is already cooked and only needs heating, all you have to do to assemble the lasagna is slice the polenta, layer it with cheese, sauce and whatever else motivates you, then pop it in the oven. Because polenta comes in a variety of flavours, it also is an effortless way to add extra flavour to the dish.
I kept this recipe pretty basic. The sauce is just jarred pasta sauce doctored with chopped Italian-style chicken sausage. But you could easily add whatever you like, as well as add additional layers of vegetables, including thinly sliced onions, peppers, mushrooms, even roasted slices of eggplant.
Just be aware that the more you add and the deeper you make the lasagna, the longer it will take to cook.
Quick Polenta Lasagna
Start to finish: 45 minutes (10 minutes active)
- 2 tubes (each 510 g/18 oz) prepared polenta
- 250 ml (1 cup) ricotta cheese
- 500 ml (2 cups) grated mozzarella cheese (divided)
- 5 ml (1 tsp) garlic powder
- 2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground black pepper
- 1 egg
- 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) jarred pasta sauce
- 170 g (6 oz) Italian-style cooked chicken sausages, finely chopped
- 50 ml (1/4 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 200 C (400 F). Coat a 2-l (8 cup) casserole dish with cooking spray.
Slice each tube of polenta into 9 rounds. Arrange 9 rounds in a single layer over the bottom of the baking dish. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, 250 ml (1 cup) of the mozzarella, garlic powder, pepper and egg. Spread mixture in an even layer over polenta.
In a small bowl, mix together pasta sauce and chopped sausage. Spread half of the mixture over cheese. Arrange remaining 9 rounds of polenta in a single layer over sauce, then top with remaining sauce.
Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and remaining 250 ml (1 cup) of mozzarella over sauce. Spray a sheet of foil with cooking spray, then use it to cover lasagna and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes, or until cheese is lightly browned. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 679 calories; 86 calories from fat (13 per cent of total calories); 10 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 86 mg cholesterol; 115 g carbohydrate; 33 g protein; 13 g fibre; 884 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking" (Ballantine, 2010). He can be emailed at jhirsch(at)ap.org.