This hearty best-loved favourite has a new twist with cornmeal polenta layers instead of noodles. If you hesitate at the word polenta, take courage. It's surprisingly easy to make, colourful and delicious.
- Portion size 10 servings
In large saucepan, bring water and salt to boil over high heat; gradually pour in cornmeal, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes or until smooth and thickened enough to mound on spoon.
Transfer to greased 13- x 9-inch (3 L) baking dish, smooth top and set aside to set. (Can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated, covered, for up to 2 days.)
Meanwhile, in large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat half of the oil over high heat; cook beef, stirring, for 5 minutes or until no longer pink. Remove and set aside; drain off fat, reduce heat to medium and add remaining oil to pan. Cook onions, garlic, mushrooms and sweet pepper until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes; crush lightly with fork. Stir in tomato sauce, meat and hot pepper flakes; bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 55 minutes. Add parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Sauce can be made ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw before continuing.)
Meanwhile, in large saucepan, cook spinach in water clinging to leaves for 4 minutes. Drain, press out as much moisture as possible and chop.
Turn polenta out onto chopping board; with long knife, cut horizontally into 2 layers. Don't worry if polenta breaks. Spread about 1 cup (250 mL) of the sauce over bottom of baking dish; cover with 1 layer of the polenta Add half of the spinach, sauce and cheese. Repeat with remaining polenta, spinach, sauce and cheese. (Can be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw before continuing and add 10 minutes to baking time.)
Bake in 375°F (190°C) oven for about 50 minutes or until crusty and bubbly