For most people, the only time lasagna lands on the weeknight table is when they prepare it ahead during the weekend. Or when it came out of a box. Even the no-boil noodles usually are too much trouble for Monday-through-Friday cooking. To quicken the cooking, use prepared polenta -- the sort sold in shelf-stable tubes. Using polenta instead of noodles not only is faster and easier, it also produces a heartier meal. Because the polenta is already cooked and only needs heating, all you have to do to assemble the lasagna is slice the polenta, layer it with cheese, sauce and whatever else motivates you, then pop it in the oven. Because polenta comes in a variety of flavors, it also is an effortless way to add extra flavor to the dish. Visit semissourian.com/features for a quick polenta lasagna recipe.
I kept this recipe pretty basic. The sauce is just jarred pasta sauce doctored with chopped Italian-style chicken sausage. But you could easily add whatever you like, as well as add additional layers of vegetables, including thinly sliced onions, peppers, mushrooms, even roasted slices of eggplant.
Just be aware that the more you add and the deeper you make the lasagna, the longer it will take to cook.
QUICK POLENTA LASAGNA
Start to finish: 45 minutes (10 minutes active)
Two 18-ounce tubes prepared polenta
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (divided)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups jarred pasta sauce
6 ounces Italian-style cooked chicken sausages, finely chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 400 F. Coat a 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray.
Slice each tube of polenta into 9 rounds. Arrange 9 rounds in a single layer over the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella, garlic powder, pepper and egg. Spread the mixture in an even layer over the polenta.
In a small bowl, mix together the pasta sauce and chopped sausage. Spread half of the mixture over the cheese. Arrange the remaining 9 rounds of polenta in a single layer over the sauce, then top with the remaining sauce.
Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese and the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella over the sauce. Spray a sheet of foil with cooking spray, then use it to cover the lasagna and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 679 calories; 86 calories from fat (13 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 86 mg cholesterol; 115 g carbohydrate; 33 g protein; 13 g fiber; 884 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking," (Ballantine, 2010). He can be e-mailed at jhirsch(at)ap.org.