Thursday, April 4, 2013

Layer it On

The Moosewood cookbooks are some of my all-time favorites in the genre of culinary literature. There are no brilliant photographs: humble sketches enhance the older versions and single-color illustrations featuring the main ingredient adorn the newer copies. The best aspect is there simplicity and practicality. In other words, these aren't restaurant recipes adapted for the home cook, but rather instructions for how to make real, delicious food.

Elaine, the librarian at Duke School and a good friend of mine, and a phenomenal cook, gave me Moosewood's Cooking for Health for my birthday and I've now had the opportunity to actually make something from it. Generally I don't see them as quick recipes, but some of them are suitable to make ahead.

Recently I've been interested in trying out one-pot meals for fewer dishes to deal with, so for this week I thought I'd test out a casserole. It's a little unorthodox, but it's beautifully layered and showcases the best produce of this time of year: vibrantly orange squash and dark leafy greens.

Polenta Casserole with Winter Squash and Greens
  1. Steam squash.
  2. Saute greens.
  3. Boil polenta.
  4. Assemble layers.
  5. Bake.
  • Polenta
    • 2 1/3 cups water
    • 2/3 cup whole grain cornmeal, not quick-cooking
    • 2 sundried tomatoes, chopped
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • Greens
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 8-10 cups collards, stemmed and chopped
    • 1/4 cup water
  • Squash
    • 1 1/2 cups mashed winter squash
    • 1 egg
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • Fresh ground pepper
    • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
    • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, optional


1) Steam a few cups of diced butternut squash in a medium saucepan for ~12 minutes or until very tender.

2) Remove from pan, drain water and set aside. Reheat the pan with the olive oil in it. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the chopped greens and water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are tender but still bright green.

3) Transfer to a glass bowl or measuring cup to cool. Bring the water for the polenta to a boil.

4) Whisk in the cornmeal. Add the sundried tomatoes, salt and thyme, and cook on low heat, stirring often, until the polenta is thick and creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Pour into a lightly oiled 8-inch square baking pan.

5) Place the cooked greens on top of the polenta in the pan. If not serving the same day, cover with foil at this point and place in the refrigerator. If you are, continue process now.

6) Mash the squash in a bowl. Stir in egg, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of the cheese. 

7) Spread the squash mixture on top of the greens. Sprinkle the cheese and breadcrumbs, if using, across.

8) Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, covered with foil. Uncover and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, until golden. For easier cutting, allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

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