Polenta Eggplant Casserole

It's the State Fair in Minnesota. Twelve days of fun, friends, and of course, food.

For those of you not familiar with the MN State Fair, it's HUGE! Over 1.7 million people attend the Fair every year. It's the second largest state fair in the United States.

The MN State Fair was originally designed as a way for farmers to showcase their work and learn new techniques to improve their work. Today, the Fair is more about farmers teaching city-dwellers about farming.

mmm.... Cheese curds...

I *love* the MN State Fair. If I could, I would live at the Fair. In fact, I did when I performed for 4-H Arts-In in high school. This year, I'm going 8 out of the 12 days. To be fair (he he), I work at my sister-in-law's family's rootbeer stand. But I usually arrive for my shift early and stay late to spend much needed quality time at the Fair.

While the food isn't the most important part of the Fair for me, it is for many people. The Fair offers more than 450 different foods and over 300 food concessions. The food isn't necessarily good, but quirky. From the deep-fried candy bars to deep fried pickles to chocolate covered bacon to everything on a stick, no one leaves the Fair hungry. And, if you haven't noticed, the Fair isn't really known for healthy food, which brings me to this recipe. I've spent a couple days at the Fair already, and I can feel the cheese curds, lepricon legs, and Sweet Martha's cookies congeiling in my veins. I am craving pure food. Food without fat, salt, or sugar. I need to detoxify my body on my days off.

So, that being said, this recipe is kind of bland. When I heated up the leftovers, I added some cheddar cheese and the dish bursted with flavor. You might want to add the cheese right away - stir in cheddar cheese with the veggies before spreading on top of the polenta to create yummy cheesy goodness.

Also, I was on a time crunch when making this dish. I had 30 minutes to put this in the oven. If I had more time, I would have cooked the vegetables in the tomato sauce before adding to the pan.

This dish makes a lot! And it heats up really well. It is also really flexible. I just used the veggies I had on hand. Be creative!

Polenta Eggplant Casserole
Serves 8
2 1/2 cup milk/water (I used 1 cup rice milk and 1 1/2 cups water - if you use whole milk, just use 1/2 cup and 2 cups water)
1 cup coarse cornmeal/polenta
Salt and Pepper to taste
6 cups chopped vegetables (I used Eggplant, kale, assorted peppers, carrots, and zucchini)
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes
2 cups tomato/marinara sauce
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 cups cheddar cheese (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Bring the milk and water and a large pinch of salt to boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. 
  3. Pour in the polenta in a steady stream, whisking to prevent lumps.
  4. Turn heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes, whisking frequently. Cook until the polenta resembles thick oatmeal. Spread the polenta in an 8 x 11 inch baking dish.
  5. Cut up all the vegetables, basil, and garlic. Mix together with the cheese, if using. (Optional: cook the vegetables in a medium saucepan with the tomato sauce for about 15 minutes or until soft; then, stir in cheese and continue with step 7.)
  6. Spread the tomato sauce over the top of the polenta.
  7. Spread the vegetable mixture over the polenta. 
  8. Slice the tomatoes in thin slices and layer on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt, pepper, and dried thyme.
  9. Cover the pan and place in oven. Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the vegetables are done. (Note: if you cooked the vegetables first, cut the baking time in half.) Enjoy!

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