Ever since I made that Sausage Bread Pudding back in December, my husband and my parents have been requesting repeats. I’ve even made it for guests. Everyone loves the heartiness of it and the cheesy top. Who doesn’t love a cheesy top? No one.
I wanted to make it again this week, but without all the heaviness. It’s bikini season, after all. Instead of the bread, I used as many summer vegetables as I could chop. And instead of just throwing cheese on them, I topped it all off with some polenta — shepherd’s pie-style. The polenta and cheese got crisp and browned, just like baked pasta (Irresistible!), and the vegetables were melded together and became almost creamy. A lighter version of the more wintery bread pudding, but just as satisfying.
PS. Forgot to mention that you should feel free to swap any of the vegetables for whatever you have on hand. Potatoes would be great instead of eggplant or zucchini. Add peas, asparagus, spinach, whatever’s fresh and available. You can also swap cheeses. Gruyere, sheep’s milk cheese, even mozzerella/parmesan would be just perfect. And finally, if you’re not up to simmering the polenta from scratch, you can always use the pre-made kind that comes in a tube. Just buy 2 tubes, slice it into 3/4-inch thick rounds and lay those over the vegetables before you top with cheese.
Sausage & Summer Vegetable Casserole with Cheesy Polenta Crust
For the polenta:
1 cup coarse cornmeal (polenta)
3 cups water or chicken stock
2 tsp. salt (omit if you use stock)
For the casserole:
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 eggplant, chopped
4 medium-sized zucchinis, chopped
3 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
8 oz. assorted mushrooms
4 sausages, cooked and sliced (I used Aidell’s sun-dried tomato chicken sausage)
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken stock (or veggie stock)
1.5 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
lots of freshly ground pepper
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded (I used Cabot Light)
First, make the polenta. In a small saucepan, combine the ingredients over medium-high heat. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
While the polenta is cooking, prep your vegetables and preheat the oven to 400°. Grease a large, deep baking dish. (Mine was 12 x 9.5 and pretty deep. This is key.) Add the mix vegetables & sausage.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, stock, thyme, salt and pepper. Pour over the vegetable/sausage mixture. Spread the polenta in an even layer over the vegetables, then spread the shredded cheese over the polenta in an even layer.
Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, or until the top layer has formed a crust and the cheese has deeply browned. Slice and server as you would a lasagna. The vegetables may give off a lot of liquid as they cook. This is fine, just make sure you serve it with a slotted spatula so that most of the liquid drains before it hits the plate.
Makes 6 – 8 generous portions.