I like to think that cooking, as an art, is a series of happy accidents. You know, man discovered fire, and then one night left a dead cow next to the fire, and poof! The first prime rib was born.
As part of my Tales of a Working Mom challenges, I have been trying to cook ahead more to make dinner time on weeknights easier. Despite all my best efforts, we never eat before eight. By eight o’clock, I never want to cook anything. Sometimes I end up eating crackers and hummus for dinner. This gets old, fast, and my husband and baby and I all need real food to keep going and ward off flu season.
My challenge is that my husband hates leftovers. He puts pre cooked, reheated dinners into that category.
My new strategy is to pre cook a few things and then make a nice, fresh, one pot meal using these pre-cooked ingredients.
This weekend, I roasted a large eggplant and a zucchini with some Italian seasoning, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes. I diced the veggies into little cubes so as to really cook them down, because I loathe spongy eggplant. We also had made some homemade tomato sauce in the fridge.
Tonight, I had this vision of using some organic sliceable polenta and turkey pepperoni and leftover cheese we had from a party to make elegant napoleons with this polenta and the aforementioned veggies and sauce. But my daughter had other ideas on how we should be spending our time. So after looking at the moon and divesting our beleaguered tomato plants of most of their still green tomatoes, I diced the polenta, and dumped it into the diced veggies with a handful of the pepperoni and the tomato sauce. I mixed it all together and then broke dill havarti, cheddar, and a sliced string cheese stick (it was what we had!) on top in little pieces, covered it with foil, said a little prayer, and threw it in the oven at 350 degrees. It cooked while I did bath, bottle, and bed with my little one. The gourmet that she is, she ate some of the components while I was making it and kept asking for, “More!” so I suppose my outlook on the shenanigan should have been slightly sunnier.
After about an hour, she was asleep, I was starving, and yep, it was eight o’clock. I pulled the pan out of the fridge.
“That smells good,” the husband said, “What is it?”
“Polenta,” I answered.
He pulled off the foil dubiously, “Polenta surprise!” he said.
Do you see all that empty space in the casserole dish? That is because it was FANTASTIC. I had to share it here with you. And note-twice baking the eggplant dissolved it into the sauce, making delicious, saucy hunks of yum. No sponginess here!
1 medium-large eggplant
1 large zucchini
11/2 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup or so of turkey pepperoni (or real, if you prefer)
I roll of pre-prepared refrigerated polenta
Cheddar, dill havarti, and mozzarella cheese, shredded or in hunks.(I think a different combo would work as well. But I would not recommend a strong cheese for this recipe, like Swiss or blue cheese)
Red pepper flakes
Ahead of time
Peel and dice the eggplant. Dice the zucchini. Bake in a baking dish with enough olive oil to coat the veggies. Mix in a good big dash of Italian seasoning and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Roast uncovered in an 8×8 inch baking dish at 350 degrees for about an hour. Take out, let cool, cover, and refrigerate until needed.
The night of
Pull out the veggies. Dump in the tomato sauce. Add the pepperoni. Dice 1/2 the roll of polenta. Add to the dish. Stir, coating everything in sauce. Take the cheeses and pinch them into little pieces. If you are using shredded cheese, drop little pinches of it down. You aren’t covering the top, just adding small but abundant pockets of cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.