This is definitely a comfort food casserole. Creamy polenta—seasoned with a bit of onion, steak seasoning, and cheddar cheese—forms the base of the casserole. The polenta is topped with a hearty ground beef and vegetable mixture and more cheddar and Parmesan cheeses. The casserole comes together quickly, bakes in only 30 minutes, and is wonderful with a green salad, microwave-steamed broccoli, and garlic bread. Want dessert? How about fresh fruit or ice cream? I've included a recipe below for a refreshing pineapple-orange ice cream, if you'd like to try making your own frozen treat.
Beef and Polenta Casserole – Serves 6+
4 ½ cups of water
1 tablespoon of minced dried onion
½ teaspoon of salt
1 cup of plain yellow cornmeal
½ teaspoon of Montreal steak seasoning (or Canadian-style)
½ cup of shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 teaspoon of olive oil
16 ounces of lean ground beef (93 percent lean)
1 medium chopped onion
1 medium chopped zucchini (about 2 cups)
1 chopped red bell pepper
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, undrained
1 6 ounce can of tomato paste
2 teaspoons of dried basil
½ cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a medium casserole dish (11x7 inches or 3 quarts) with non-stick cooking spray. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, dried onion, and salt to a boil. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal until smooth. Reduce the heat to a simmer and whisk the cornmeal mixture occasionally for about 10 minutes or until it becomes thick and creamy. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the steak seasoning and ¼ cup of the cheese. Spread the polenta in the prepared casserole dish.
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil, and, when the dish is hot, add the ground beef and brown it for about 10 minutes. Add the onion, zucchini, and pepper and sauté them with the beef for about five minutes more or until the meat is done and the vegetables have softened a bit. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and dried basil. Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes or until the liquid is reduced and the mixture thickens. Pour the beef mixture over the polenta. Sprinkle on the remaining cheddar cheese and the Parmesan. Bake the casserole for 30 minutes or until it's brown and bubbly.
Pineapple Orange Ice Cream – Serves 8+
1 ½ teaspoons of unflavored gelatin
1 ½ cups of orange juice
½ cup of honey
3 cups of half and half
1 can (16-20 ounces) of crushed pineapple in juice (undrained)
Combine the gelatin, orange juice, honey, and half and half in a medium saucepan and whisk them together over medium heat to dissolve the gelatin and honey. When the mixture steams and barely bubbles around the edges, remove it from the heat and stir in the can of crushed pineapple. Let the mixture cool to room temperature and then refrigerate it for at least 4 hours. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Serve the ice cream immediately or put it in a plastic container in the freezer. Once the mixture is hard frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes before serving it. Alternatively, you can partially freeze the mixture in a large pan, break up the mixture into chunks, and whir the chunks in a blender or food processor until mushy. Freeze the mushy mixture again until it firms up and then let it thaw in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes before serving it.