Polenta Lasagna

Polenta Lasagna with Cremini Mushrooms

Tracking down gluten-free lasagna noodles is pretty rough.  I found some once at a dusty little health food store in Aberdeen, and wasn’t really impressed.  A good substitute came up in Sally Schneider’s “A New Way to Cook”: just use polenta to make “noodles”.  It’s gluten-free, cheap, and readily available.  In a lasagna, polenta “noodles” form a crispy top and edges that give way to a delicate bottom layer.  Ms. Schneider even has a genius method for cooking it in the oven.

You can make the “noodles” the night before.  (They even keep a few days in the fridge.)

1 c. polenta
3 3/4 c. water
3/4 tsp. salt
a grinding of fresh pepper

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Combine ingredients in a Dutch oven or any other stove-to-oven dish.  (I am fond of my Le Creuset.)  Bring to a boil over high heat, whisking with a balloon whisk to keep from sticking.  Has it boiled?  Remove your Dutch oven to the oven, and bake approximately 40 minutes.  (If you are sans Dutch oven, bring ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, then transfer to an 8″x8″ glass baking dish or pie pan.)

At the 40-minute mark, reach in there with your whisk and beat the mixture to a fairly smooth consistency.  It should be almost done: water mostly absorbed, thick texture, with each grain having a slight bite.  Bake an additional 10 minutes or so and remove from the oven. 

Prepare a jellyroll pan by either oiling it or lining with a Silpat.  Scrape your polenta onto the prepared pan (a thin crust will remain in the pan–I recommend plopping it in the sink to soak), and spread to a 3/8″ thickness.  Cool for 1-2 hours, or toss in the fridge to speed up the process.

When polenta has solidified, use a pizza cutter or a sharp knife to slice into 1″x2″ rectangles.  Keep the scraps, as they’ll be the bottom of your lasagna.  Ta-daa, you have polenta “noodles!”  Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator if you will not be using them immediately.

Now for the lasagna itself:

1 batch of polenta “noodles,” recipe above
1 Tbsp. olive oil

8 large cremini or button mushrooms, halved and then cut into 1/4″ slices (this will yield approximately 4 loosely packed cups of ‘shrooms).  Portobellas would be luxurious here as well–I’d budget 3-4 of them, depending on size.

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1/2 of a medium onion, sliced thinly
2 tsp. dried thyme, divided
1/4+ tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
2/3 c. red or white wine
2 Tbsp. melted bacon fat, butter, or more olive oil
1/2 c. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Toss in onions and garlic, and saute until onions become almost translucent.  Keep the mixture moving so as not to burn the garlic.  Add in mushrooms, 1 tsp. thyme, salt, and pepper.  Saute until mushrooms wilt and begin to brown a bit.  (This took almost 10 minutes on my stove.)

Mushroom mixutre…almost done.
Turn up your heat to medium-high and pour in the wine.  Work quickly to deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up anything that sticks.  Cook until wine reduces, 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside while you prepare your “noodles.”
Preheat your oven to 400F, and oil an 8″x8″ glass baking dish or a pie pan.  Spread about half a cup of the mushroom mixture on the bottom, then begin layering the rectangles of polenta “like roof tiles” into your pan.  I start with the edge pieces for this bottom layer, as no one will see them.  Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of melted fat, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of thyme leaves.  Dollop in the remaining mushroom mixture, and spread evenly with a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon.  Sprinkle with 1/4 c. cheese. 

Repeat with remaining “noodles” for the top layer.  Drizzle with the remaining 1 Tbsp. of fat, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. thyme leaves, salt & pepper, and top with remaining cheese. 

When you’ve finished making the “lasagna,” put in the oven and bake approximately 30 minutes, until cheese is melted on top and it’s bubbling a bit.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool at least 10 minutes before cutting in, so that it doesn’t disintegrate en route to your plate.

Yield: 4 servings.