Polenta Pastissada

Lasagne-Style Polenta

Polenta is a staple in northern Italy, where it is as popular as pasta is in the south. The basic method of cooking it is below. Many households keep cold, cooked polenta ready for frying or turning into other dishes.

This old traditional country dish from the Veneto makes a wonderful golden cake. Polenta is cut into slices, then arranged in layers with a tomato and veal sauce, cheese and butter and baked like lasagne.

Ingredients

  • 340 g (12 oz) polenta (yellow cornmeal)
  • 1.2 litres (2 pints) boiling water

Sauce

  • 20 g (¾ oz) dried porcini (or other dried mushrooms)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 150 g (5 oz) butter
  • 150 g (5 oz) veal steak, trimmed and cubed
  • ½ wineglass, about 75 ml ( fl oz), dry white wine
  • 225 g (8 oz) fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • ½ teaspoon tomato paste
  • salt and pepper
  • 75 g ( oz) Parmesan cheese
  • 75 g ( oz) chicken livers, cleaned and chopped

Method

In a large saucepan add the polenta flour to the boiling water and stir quickly to a smooth texture. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring almost constantly until the polenta comes away from the side of the pan. Tip it out on to a board and let it set slightly. When it is cool and solid, slice it into 1 cm (½ inch) thick strips.

Cover the dried mushrooms with lukewarm water and leave to soak for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the chopped onion, carrot and celery in a pan with about one-third of the butter and fry until soft. Add the meat and brown all over. Pour in the wine and boil rapidly for about 5 minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, and season and stir. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes..

Drain the mushrooms, chop if large and stir into the pan. Cook for a further 30 minutes. Cut the Parmesan cheese into flakes with a cheese slicer. Cook the chicken livers quickly in about 30 g (1 oz) butter.

Butter an ovenproof dish large enough to take the slices of polenta and the meat and tomato sauce. Arrange a layer of polenta slices on the bottom, pour a little sauce over and scatter a few flakes of cheese over it. Cover with another layer of polenta slices, dot with butter and a few chicken livers and more flaked Parmesan. Cover with another layer.

Continue in this way with alternate layers – meat and tomato sauce and Parmesan or chicken livers, butter and Parmesan, ending with Parmesan and butter. Bake in a hot oven (200°C, 400°F, gas mark 6) for 20–25 minutes. Serve at once with a full-bodied red wine.

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