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Polenta lasagna with veggies and homemade meat sauce is a super easy weeknight or weekend dish that is both family-friendly and date night appropriate! It takes just two hours to prepare (if you make your own sauce), is easy to pack as leftovers for lunch, and pairs well with your favorite red wine.
Polenta is both gluten-free and has fewer calories than pasta, so this is a great option for those of you who have dietary restrictions or for those that are looking for a more diet-friendly alternative to one of the world’s most popular Italian dishes. Pair that with the variety of health benefits your body can acquire from the added dairy (cheese, please!), and you’ve got yourself a winner!
If you know me at all, you know I like anything layered and anything with dairy. If it’s cheesy, creamy, or milky… I’m there. Many people think dairy and automatically assume that it’s unhealthy, forgetting how much of a nutrient-rich powerhouse it can be. When on the contrary, dairy products are actually an excellent source of calcium, Vitamin D, protein, potassium, and more. They are also linked to improved bone health both in children as their bone mass is being built and in adults as we age. Didn’t your mother ever tell you to drink your milk if you want to grow?
What do you think of when you think of comfort food? Personally, I picture grilled cheese and tomato soup in my parent’s kitchen on a chilly fall afternoon… both of which, *ding ding*, have dairy. Think about all of the plates we know and love that are made with it: pizza on football Sunday, sandwiches for our school lunches, charcuterie boards to entertain weekend guests, cereal before work, smoothies on the go, cheesy pasta dishes at your favorite Italian restaurant, ice cream for a summer treat… the list goes on! We hardly even realize just how much it is present in some of our favorite meals. And that is all thanks to the hard working dairy farmers who devote themselves to caring for their farms and cows in order to provide us with the freshest product possible. Every day, the dairy industry and our farmers work hard to produce responsibly, efficiently and sustainably… from reducing their carbon footprint and recycling water and nutrients for their crops, to preserving natural resources and growing the farm-to-table movement. If it weren’t for these efforts, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the simple, nutrient-rich products that we consume on a daily basis.
These efforts help fuel our bodies with some of the most important vitamins and nutrients needed for a well-balanced diet. So, let’s not forget that a little bit of dairy in our daily diets is actually quite good for our overall health! In moderation, of course, as with anything else. It is recommended that we consume three servings per day. I certainly don’t avoid it, and you shouldn’t either. Also, remember to shop local! Chances are that the milk you poured into your cereal this morning was from a farm in your neck of the woods (97% of dairy farms are owned and operated by families)!
So, what does all of that have to do with this recipe, you ask? The cheese, of course! Like I said, SO many of our favorite meals have dairy in them. Particularly creamy, cheesy Italian dishes. The shredded mozzarella and Italian blend cheeses and the ricotta truly make lasagna, well, lasagna! Sure, you can’t have lasagna without sauce or your carbohydrate of choice (in this case, polenta), but the cheese is what holds it all together. Feel free to use reduced-fat cheese if you’d prefer!
I first had polenta last year at a friend’s house and have been cooking with it ever since. What I love most about this dish is that you can hardly tell that you aren’t eating pasta. Between the consistency of polenta on its own and the way it absorbs the moisture from the sauce, ricotta mixture and cheeses, it becomes noodle-like in texture after being cooked. This, of course, is largely dependent on how thick you cut it. The thicker the piece, the more you will notice the differences. The thinner, the more noodle-y. Don’t cut too thin though! I generally stay around 1/8th of an inch.
I love a good homemade pasta sauce, so I made my own with ground turkey. But, you can cook the sauce with beef if you prefer. If you are to use beef, I would suggest draining the meat before adding in all of the tomato bases so the sauce isn’t overly oily. If you are a vegetarian, feel free to replace the meat sauce with a marinara and follow the layering instructions just the same. The zucchini and squash add that wonderful extra layer of texture while giving the dish that all-important addition of vegetables (your kids won’t even notice!)