I first tried polenta in a swanky little restaurant on Las Olas Boulevard in Downtown Ft. Lauderdale. The small, uniform pieces had been baked and grilled, then topped with sautéed wild mushrooms. It was delicious. That was years ago, and I have prepared this staple from Northern Italy many times in a variety of cuisines since. The recipe below is an adaptation of one of my favorites from Mollie Katzen’s The New Moosewood Cookbook.
Mollie refers to her version as a deep-dish pizza with a thick, crunchy cornmeal crust. Before becoming vegan, I enjoyed her recipe with its 1/4 pound of mozzarella many times. But I’ve learned that plant-based cheeses can be just as tasty and much healthier. For my adaptation, I use vegan parm instead of mozzarella, and the dish is more casserole-like. It’s one of those dishes that’s hard not to nibble, even after eating a full lunch or dinner portion!
Stoneground polenta yields larger grains and retains more nutrients than regular cornmeal. Look for organic or non-GMO certifications, especially in the US, where most corn is grown from seeds modified in a lab and their stalks heavily sprayed with toxic glyphosate. The nutrition in polenta includes complex carbs that are slow to digest and thereby assist blood sugar levels; carotenoids that can help prevent cancers and eye diseases; and the minerals iron, zinc, and magnesium that are essential to many bodily functions.
Cremini mushrooms, aka baby bellas, are teeming with nutrition. In addition to having a variety of minerals including an abundance of copper, needed for energy production, and selenium, required for healthy thyroid function & DNA synthesis, they also contain a host of B vitamins and protein. Furthermore, the enzymes and good bacteria in creminis boost immune function. Their bold flavor makes them my favorite among domesticated mushrooms.
You won’t soon forget the flavorful presence of zucchini in this dish. And its health benefits abound, too. Its water content provides for hydration and electrolytes, while its bevy of phytonutrients help protect against inflammation and oxidative stress. The science of Ayurveda considers zucchini a tonic for upset stomach, bloating, constipation and acid reflux.
Don’t let the number of ingredients stop you from trying this delicious, nutritious recipe. The preparation is simple and moves along quickly, and you might just find the result as irresistible as I do.
Yield: 5 – 6 servings
Ingredients (use organic or non-GMO when possible)
6 heaping tbsp almond meal
1 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp Himalayan salt (or more to taste)
1 cup polenta
1 tsp Himalayan salt (or more to taste)
3 cups water (or as much as your polenta package calls for)
2 tbsp avocado oil for pan (olive oil will work, too)
1 yellow onion, med diced
8 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced thin
6 baby bell peppers, various colors, trimmed & sliced into 1 inch pieces
6 – 8 med brussels sprouts, trimmed & quartered
2 med carrots, sliced into nickel-thick rounds
1/3 med head cauliflower, cut into small-medium florets
2 med zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
10 med cremini mushrooms, cut in half
handful of grape tomatoes, cut in half (optional)
1 more tbsp avocado or olive oil for veggies
2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp Himalayan salt (or more to taste)
avocado or olive oil spray for baking dish
1/4 tsp paprika
Prepare the vegan parmesan by combining the first 4 ingredients (almond meal – salt) in a small bowl and mix well. Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.
Cook 1 cup of polenta according to your package directions (water could be more or less than 3 cups), whisking often & using a lid to partially cover between whisks. (If you’ve never worked with polenta, I’d suggest wearing oven mitts the first time due to its potential to pop out of the pot & burn you while simmering.) Be sure to include a teaspoon of salt, and taste for salt once it’s done cooking, adding more if needed. Replace the lid and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Oil the bottom and sides of a baking pan. Add the cut veggies & additional 1 tbsp oil, and toss around until the oil is well distributed. (They can overlap – no need to get them all on 1 layer.) Add basil, oregano, crushed red, black pepper, and salt. Bake for 20 minutes, until firm-tender, just a bit less firm than stir-fried veggies. You don’t want them soft – a little crunch after baking under the polenta is the goal. Taste for salt when you take them out of the oven.
Spray the bottom and sides of a 10″ x 13″ baking dish with oil. Place the roasted veggies in the dish. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the vegan parm evenly over them. Cover with the cooked polenta, using a wet rubber spatula to smooth out the top, covering all the veggies. Sprinkle with the paprika. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 mins, then turn the oven to broil for 3 – 6 mins, or until the polenta topping becomes a little tan in spots. (Of course, watch it closely once you turn on the broiler. What takes 6 minutes in my oven might take only 3 minutes in yours. And you don’t want to burn it, after all that preparation!)
Enjoy your yummy creation, adding a little more parm once divided onto plates.
The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.