Monday, September 26, 2011
Recipe: Savory Sausage and Eggplant Casserole
I cannot deny fall any longer. School has been up and running for 3 weeks already, the carnivals and harvest festivals are everywhere. And in one week buildings around the city will legally have to turn on the heat if the overnight temperatures fall below 55 degrees. (Or something like that.)
Yet saying goodbye to summer has been bitter this year. Perhaps it was the killer tan I had this year during the days when I actually got sun. Perhaps it was the time off from work. Perhaps it was because my DH was home for several weeks this summer playing with the kiddos and helping out around the house. Our schedule was leisurely, our fridge was full of fresh fruit and although it was wickedly hot much of the time the sun felt clean and clear on our skin. Now here I am sorting through my closet, up to my ankles in corduroy and opaque Spanx, and I can't find any excitement about it at all.
This time of year DH is always playing Simon and Garfunkel and reminding me how they conjure fall for him. His memories of all-boys Catholic prep school will forever endear him to the fall season. Starting school gave his life structure and meaning. I normally find excitement this time of year in pull on boots, corduroy skirts with over sized belts or sweaters that hit just below the waistline. Oh! And brightly colored cardigans. But this year. I just keep looking at my sun dresses and white pants with melancholy.
Eggplants and tomatoes are the fruits of a dying season. Nurtured by long hot days they seem to come of age just as the days begin to shorten. While tomatoes are coaxed into being for much longer seasons by farmers who know that the tomato is a cash cow, eggplants are free to do their own thing. Not every person you know will eat an eggplant this season. And my family and I might only have 2 or 3 in any given late summer. But they are some of my most favorite of all vegetables.
Eggplants cook down into a mush that is not sweet and not bitter, but yet a bit of both. They are also usually cooked in so much olive oil that this fatty and creamy texture is cooked right into the vegetable pulp. The following recipe is not one that will be kind to your waistline. It is quite the fattening dish. But it is one that will help to coax out some of those tears that you have been unable to shed over summer's demise.
Sausage and Eggplant Casserole
FOR THE SAUCE:
1 pound sausage (preferably pork, but that isn't entirely necessary, definitely ethically raised though)
1 peeled and cubed eggplant, about 3-4 cups (any variety)
1 medium sized onion, chopped to a medium dice
2-3 cups prepared tomato sauce
1/2 cup finely chopped kale (in a chiffonade if you will)
FOR THE POLENTA:
5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups dry polenta
1 cup heavy cream
FOR THE TOPPING:
Fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses
In a larger skillet than you think you need (that has a lid), begin to cook your sausage. When the sausage is cooked through but not yet brown, add your onion and eggplant and stir. Cover and cook until the eggplant begins to soften, maybe 30-40 minutes. At first the eggplant will soak up all the fat in the pan. But as it cooks it will release it all back into the dish. Notice I didn't say drain the fat from your sausage? Well, that is why this recipe is so good. The fat is crucial to the flavor of this meal. If your sausage is very lean like turkey sausage, add about a quarter cup of olive oil during browning. This oil will prevent burning, don't remove any of it.
When the eggplant becomes very soft add the prepared tomato sauce and the chiffonaded kale. The reason for the stipulation on the kale is that while you want to add some more vitamins to this dish, you don't want it to be thick and chewy. The idea is that the kale will melt into the sauce. You can completely omit it if you prefer. Allow the sauce to cook for another 45 minutes to an hour until all the flavors have combined.
In another pot, bring your 5 cups of water up to a boil with the teaspoon of salt. When the water is at a rolling boil, add your polenta while whisking to avoid clumps. Allow polenta to cook. I recently saw on TV that polenta that is fully cooked naturally pulls away from the pan when stirred. It reminded me of when bread dough comes together. I added my cup of cream when this happened. It is worth it to note however, your polenta will likely not look like bread dough coming together. It just won't be quite so amorphous and sticky. It will get very thick when fully cooked. Undercooked polenta is NOT delicious.
Pour your cooked but still hot polenta into a casserole dish. Spread evenly over the bottom. Do not wait for your polenta to cool before you put it in the casserole dish. Cooled polenta will take on whatever shape it was in while cooling. You MUST get it into your casserole dish while it is still warm. Layer your sauce on top of the polenta, and also spread in an even layer. Lastly top with cubed or sliced fresh mozzarella cheese and grated Parmesan.
Bake the casserole in a 350 degree oven until the cheese has become melted and yummy looking on top.
Serve, and try not to eat the whole freakin' pan. It will be hard. But you can do it. Think of the amazing lunches and leftovers you will have!!! And yes, you are reading correctly, this recipe takes apx 2 hours to cook. It is definitely a weekend effort. But it does freeze beautifully. Even better, make a double batch and eat one and freeze one!
The Things did NOT eat this meal. Neither one said they liked sauce that night. Go figure. They are difficult to understand and even more difficult to anticipate. Oh well, more for me!
This post is shared with Melt in Your Mouth Mondays and Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays