Inspired by an appetizer from a restaurant, Bistro on Main, Lexington VA, and my love for eggplant and fresh mozzarella, I added a touch of southern style grits, by using creamy polenta. A nod to our great family owned Italian delis, I used fresh mozzarella, and the other ingredients (roasted red pepper, marinara sauce and pesto). It is so nice to support our city's establishments during this time. The ingredients are stacked to create a tower. Recipe can be expanded to be served over greens (arugula), or as a side dish with meats.
1 Roasted Red Pepper (I used jarred), slice in 1/2\" pieces
8 tablespoons Pesto (I used our deli\'s but you could make your own)
8-10 ounces Fresh Mozzarella (sliced in 1/4\" slices, need 8 all uniform in diam, 3\" approx)
2 cups Marinara Sauce (warming on stove)
1/2 cup Polenta, dry
1 cup whole milk
1 cup vegetable broth (or water)
1 pound Eggplant
1/2 cup Flour
2 Eggs, beaten
2 cups Panko (or breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons Pine nuts, toasted
salt and pepper to your taste
muffin tin, baking pans, oven safe serving tray/dish at least 10\"
1/2 cup Olive Oil
Step 1\nCoat baking pan and muffin tin with oil. Warm Marinara over stove. Toast pine nuts - carefully in a dry pan, just a few minutes watching carefully so they do not burn. Set nuts aside.\nHeat oven to 400.\n\nMake Polenta: Heat broth and milk with pinch of salt in a saucepan until a light boil. Add polenta and whisk for approx 5 min. until creamy and smooth. Pour into well greased or oiled muffin tin (you need 4, but pour 6 of the cups 1/2 full). Set aside to cool. Once cool, carefully pry out of tins and place on baking pan, coat with oil.
Step 2Prep Eggplant: Cut 8 slices of eggplant, try to have all about the same size, approx. 3.5\
Step 3Add polenta to the oven as well to lightly brown - add at same time and also flip halfway. Careful to just lightly brown. \n\nTurn down oven to 300.
Step 4Contruct the 4 towers:\nCoat serving dish with 1 cup of the Marinara. \nEach tower: 1 eggplant slice on base, top with cheese slice, spread cheese with 1 T. pesto top with 2-3 slices of red pepper, add another eggplant slice, 2nd cheese slice, pesto and top with Polenta Cake. Make your towers as level as possible. They go back in the oven just for 3 min to slightly melt the cheese. (if you leave in too long, your cheese slides and towers can fall).
Step 5Top warmed towers with a drizzle of the marinara and sprinkle with pine nuts. \n
Step 6Helpful notes: This sounds like a lot of steps, but it is no more than making a lasagna, and cooking time is short. You can make the eggplant slices and polenta in advance. The results are not only delicious but make an impressive presentation!