Polenta Casserole with Meat Sauce (Polenta Pasticciata con Ragu di Carne)
Although polenta is usually associated with northern Italy, this is a southern Italian dish. It's perfect to double or triple for a crowd, and can be assembled a day or two ahead of time and baked just before serving.
For the polenta:
- 8 cups water
- 2 cups polenta (coarse yellow cornmeal)
- 1 Tbs. salt
For the sauce:
- 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1/2 lb. ground beef or veal
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1 can (28 oz.) plum tomatoes with juice
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Meanwhile, oil two 8-inch square baking pans. Pour the polenta into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly and spreading it flat with a rubber spatula moistened with cold water. Let cool until firm. (The polenta can be made up to 24 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
To make the sauce, in a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic. Add the meat and cook, stirring to break up any lumps, until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes more. Pass the tomatoes and their juice through a food mill or sieve directly into the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, 30 to 45 minutes.
Preheat an oven to 400°F. Oil a large square or rectangular baking dish.
Cut the polenta into eight 4-inch squares and arrange half of the squares in the bottom of the baking dish. Spoon on half of the sauce, covering evenly, and top with half of the mozzarella cheese slices. Repeat the layers using the remaining ingredients. Sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese evenly over the top.
Bake until the cheese melts and the sauce is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then serve hot directly from the baking dish.