Growing up Italian, we always had some kind of delicious baked pasta dish for every holiday and special occasion. Thanksgiving? Lasagna. Christmas? Stuffed shells. Easter? Baked ziti. These were dishes that were also made on weekends every now and then, but they were still special.
When we decided to go vegan, my husband and I wondered how we could still eat these favorite dishes. Not only were they dear to my heart because I grew up with them, my husband discovered what a real feast was with these baked dishes. It was important to us to continue the tradition of a special meal made complete with a hearty Italian dish. The solution was cashew cheese.
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of cashews in some recipes because I don’t particularly like the flavor. However, when put into a dish with a rich tomato sauce, only the creaminess and cheesy texture stands out. With a pop of lemon, it tastes fresh and rounds out the flavor profile.
This particular dish was created because I ran out of lasagna noodles but really wanted something similar. I had gotten a tube of polenta to make baked polenta fries (also delicious), so I substituted the noodles with it. The polenta added an extra richness and some pleasurable texture. It was a huge hit with the husband and toddler.
Below is the basic recipe for a quick meal. Homemade sauce would be even better, but I used jarred to cut down on dishes and time. Also, feel free to substitute or add vegetables to the layers.
Polenta Lasagna with Lemon Cashew “Ricotta”
-1 tube polenta
-1 jar marinara sauce or homemade sauce
-2 Tbsp olive oil
-2 large zucchinis or other vegetables
For the cashew ricotta:
-1 cup cashews, soaked for several hours in 2 cups water
-juice of 1 lemon
-1 garlic clove
-2 tsp dijon mustard
-4 Tbsp nutritional yeast
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp Italian seasoning
-3-4 Tbsp olive oil
-1/4 cup water
1. Make sure the cashews have been soaking ahead of time. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Slice the polenta and vegetables into medallions about 1/2 inch thick. The polenta is pretty delicate and may crumble a bit, that’s okay, just save the crumbles to fill in holes in the casserole.
2. Put all the ingredients for cashew cheese in a high powered blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Add water if it’s too thick or dry.
3. Grease a small casserole dish with olive oil and layer as follows: 9 rounds Polenta, 1/3 of the cheese, even coating of sauce, enough zucchini to cover in one layer…etc. until everything is used up. Pour the rest of the sauce on top.
4. Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes, until nice and bubbly. Serve immediately with bread and light salad.