We're calling it: This recipe for polenta ragu casserole is the new lasagna. Instead of using pasta, we layer creamy polenta with our (easy) homemade meat sauce and plenty of cheese. It's a win-win because not only does it taste fantastic but you don't have to fuss with fragile noodles.
Polenta Ragu Casserole
8 cups chicken broth or water
1¾ cups polenta
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground beef
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
½ cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish and a baking sheet with olive oil or nonstick cooking spray.
2. Make the Polenta: In a large pot, bring the broth or water to a simmer over medium heat. Add the polenta, whisking constantly to incorporate. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is thick and pulls away from the side of the pot, 25 to 30 minutes.
3. Add the butter, Parmesan and black pepper to the polenta, and stir to combine. Pour the polenta onto the prepared baking sheet and spread into an even layer. Let the mixture cool while you make the sauce.
4. Make the Ragu: In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, and sauté until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute more.
5. Add the ground beef to the pot and sauté until fully cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until good flavor develops and the mixture thickens slightly, 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Stir in the half-and-half and bring to a simmer. Add the oregano and basil; season with salt and pepper.
7. Cut the cooled polenta into 3-inch squares (no need to be exact).
8. Ladle a bit of sauce into the base of the prepared casserole dish—just enough to coat the bottom. Add a layer of polenta squares and then ladle half of the remaining sauce on top. Arrange half of the mozzarella in an even layer on top of the sauce.
9. Place another layer of polenta squares on top of the first layer; top with the remaining sauce and the remaining cheese in even layers. (The casserole can be made up to this point and refrigerated for up to three days.)
10. Transfer the casserole to the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm, immediately.