At this point, you might be saying, enough with the eggplant recipes already! I hear you, but can you stand just one more? Hey, maybe I could make it into the Guinness Book of World Records “Blogs with the most eggplant recipes” category. (not a thing, but should be!)
On a more serious note… I adapted this recipe for Baked Polenta with Eggplant and Sweet Peppers from Marcella Hazan’s “Baked Crêpé Pie with Eggplant and Peppers,” which is equally as delicious. In Bologna, the crêpé – called crespelle, made with a batter of flour, eggs, milk, and parsley can be cooked into a thin pancake and stuffed with ricotta filling or simply eaten alone or with soup. In addition, the eggplant/sweet pepper/parmigiana cheese filling can be used in myriad ways.
The substitution of polenta for crespelle seemed to make the recipe a bit less complicated and provided a wonderful excuse to make baked polenta.
Before corn came to the new world, cooks made polenta made from other grains such as buckwheat or millet. The making of polenta traditionally requires constant stirring for at least 20 minutes at the stovetop in order to reach the desired consistency and starchiness. Other less labor-intensive methods such as boiling then resting for three hours, cooking in a slow cooker, or using a microwave have been tried and discussed at length.
In my humble opinion, the stovetop method and constant stirring allows for a meditation and quieting of the mind that I often find in the kitchen.
Want more Italian cooking? How about taking one of my virtual cooking classes? I focus on naturally vegetarian Italian dishes – either small group or private. For more detailed info on upcoming classes, click here!
Baked Polenta with Eggplant and Sweet Peppers
- 1 cup polenta
- 3/4 lb. eggplant (about 2 medium-sized)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 medium red bell peppers or any sweet pepper
- 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
- Preheat oven to 400 ° F
Make the Polenta
- Bring 3 ¼ cups water to a boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, add a pinch of salt, and slowly drizzle in the polenta, a bit at a time while whisking continuously to prevent lumps. Turn the heat to low and keep at a very low simmer. Switch to a wooden spoon, and stir continuously for 20 minutes. Polenta will pull away from the sides when done. Spoon onto a large wooden board or smooth countertop and using a spatula or bench scraper, smooth the polenta into a thin, flat sheet about 15-inches by 9-inches. Allow to cool and harden.
Prep the eggplant
- Wash, remove stem, and slice eggplants into ½ inch slices. Set a colander on top of a bowl, and add some slices to the colander. Sprinkle with salt. Add another layer of eggplant slices and salt. Continue with the rest of the eggplant slices. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to let the salt bring out the astringent liquid.Using a paper towel, blot off excess water. Place eggplant slices on a baking dish, pour on 2 tbsp. olive oil, mix and throw in a 400 ° F oven for 10 minutes until soft.
Prep the peppers
- If you have a gas stovetop, blacken the skins of the peppers over the flames. Otherwise, use the broiler and set the peppers directly on the rack and turn halfway through. Once the skins are black and bubbly (about 5 minutes per side) remove the peppers, and place them in a plastic bag to steam. Once they are cool enough to touch, remove from the bag. Peel off the blackened skins and discard. Slice open the peppers with a knife and scrape away the seeds. Cut the peppers in long strips.
Put it all together
- In a large bowl, mix the eggplant, peppers, and ⅓ cup of the cheese. Stir to combine. Divide into 3 equal portions.
- Cut the polenta into small squares. In an 8 x 8 inch baking dish, cover the bottom with one layer of polenta squares. Spoon ⅓ of the eggplant/pepper mixture over the top. Add another layer of polenta, then ⅓ of eggplant/pepper mixture. Add last layer of polenta and finish with eggplant/pepper layer and the rest of the cheese.
- Bake in the 400 ° F oven for 25 minutes until cheese is melted and top is golden. Let dish sit for 5- 8 minutes before serving.