Polenta Pasticciata with Broccoli Rabe
If you have never had a polenta pasticciata then you should make this and you will discover a new axis of symmetry for the arc of your life. There will be your life before pasticciata and your life after. You can follow the basic technique and substitute another sauce as you might with a lasagne. But always layer with bechamel and parmesan (as you would with a lasagne). And even though it violates the guidelines for Gut, a pasticciata is finished in the oven. But here the oven is primarily used just to heat it through and most of the flavor creation happens on the stove top.
Polenta, broccoli rabe, dried porcini, pancetta, shallots, parsley, canned tomatoes. Not pictured: parmesan, fontina, butter, flour, milk, broth. Begin by soaking the mushrooms in some warm water.
Parboil the Broccoli Rabe
Trim the bottoms of the broccoli rabe and drop in boiling salted water. Cook for a couple minutes and then remove with tongs and place a bowl of ice water.
Chop the shallots and pancetta and cook over medium high heat with butter. Cook for a while until the shallots are soft and golden and the pancetta has yielded its fat and is turning crisp.
Chop the parsley and add to the pan. Saute for a few more minutes.
Remove the mushrooms from the water with your hand and gently squeeze the liquid back into the bowl. Then chop fine and add to the pan. Saute for a minute or two. Reserve the liquid.
Coarsely chop the broccoli rabe. Add to the pan and saute for a few mintues.
Add a few chopped canned tomatoes along with some salt. Cook for several minutes until the tomatoes are dense and pulpy.
Meanwhile make a bechamel sauce. I used 2 tablespoons each of butter and flour and 2 cups of milk for 3 cups of polenta. Bring the milk to a simmer. Melt the butter in a separate small sauce pan. Add the flour. Stir and cook on medium heat for a few minutes. The moment the mixture looks like it will start to turn brown, reduce heat somewhat and start to add milk. Begin with a small spash. Stir quickly to incorporate. Add another splash of milk. Keep stirring. Repeat this process, adding a bit more milk each time.
Eventually you will have a creamy mass. Add salt. Continue to cook for a few minutes so that it thickens. Use a whisk to remove any lumps. Remove from heat. Whisk occasionally until you are ready to use it.
Bring broth and/or water to a boil. Without disturbing the sediment, gently pour the mushroom liquid into the broth, reserving and discarding the dregs. The total amount of liquid should be 3-4 times the amount of corn meal. Pour the corn meal in a thin stream into the boiling liquid, stirring all the while. Reduce heat so that it bubbles gently. Stir frequently and cook for at least forty minutes. The polenta should become thick and you should stir and cook it thus for about twenty minutes. This breaks down the meal and creates a shiny and fragrant porridge. Add salt. Remove from heat when done but stir occasionally until ready to assemble the pasticciata.
Meanwhile the broccoli rabe sauce should become dense. Taste and correct for salt and remove from heat.
Line a baking dish with butter. If you use 3 cups of polenta, this dish should be 9″ x 13″.
Spread 1/3 of the polenta in a layer on the bottom of the dish.
Then spread half the sauce. Use a spoon to drop and distribute the sauce as best you can without stirring as you don’t want to disturb the bottom layer of polenta too much.
Drizzle 1/3 of the bechamel sauce.
Grate a nice layer of parmesan.
Add another layer of polenta (half of what remains). Spread gently so that the layers are not destroyed.
Add another layer of sauce (all that remains), bechamel and parmesan.
Add the remaining polenta in a final layer. Top with grated fontina (you can also layer fontina or other cheeses within but I did not have very much).
Finally top with the remaining bechamel, a generous grating of parmesan, grated pepper, and dot all over with butter. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown in places and the whole dish is sizzling hot.
Ready to Eat
Remove from oven and let stand for a few minutes before digging in.