Holey Moley, this is just the thing for a freeze-ball night. It feeds a crowd, and reasonably cheaply, BUT there are a few steps to it and it's not the sort of thing to try and whip up at 6.00pm. Get yourself organised and make the polenta the evening before (cut it, stack it and chill it) and make the sauce ahead, too, (I'm not going to encourage you to use a ready-made sauce, but if it all gets a bit much, that might be an option for you).
Puttanesca sauce 5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 2-3 canned anchovies in oil, drained, mopped with paper towels and mashed (optional) 2 small dried ‘bird’s eye’ chillies, crushed (optional) 2 x 400g (15-ounce) cans Italian crushed tomatoes 2 Tbsp tomato concentrate 1 Tbsp capers, drained (chop if large) 1 tsp dried Sicilian or Greek oregano Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste ½ cup black olives, pitted and chopped Polenta 1 litre (about 2 pints US / 1¾ pints UK)) water 250ml (about 9 fluid ounces) full fat milk 1¼ tsp salt 250g (about 9 ounces) ‘Instant’ polenta 3 Tbsp butter 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese Freshly grated nutmeg Eggplant & topping 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving 50g (about 2 ounces) butter, plus extra for greasing tin 1 large or 2 medium-sized eggplant Olive oil Salt
1 Put the extra virgin olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan, set it over a medium heat and drop in the garlic. Sauté the garlic until it turns a pale biscuit colour – no further. Remove pan from heat, cool briefly, then stir in anchovies and chillies, if using. Carefully tip in the tomatoes, then add ¼ cup water (use the water to swirl around the cans to get the last bits), tomato concentrate, capers, oregano, a few large pinches of salt and some black pepper (omit the salt if you are adding anchovies; check the seasoning once the sauce is cooked).
2 Bring the sauce to the boil, then lower the heat. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 25–30 minutes, or until the tomatoes are pulpy. Add the olives.
1 Bring the water and milk to the boil in a wide (not tall and narrow) saucepan. Add salt, then gradually sprinkle in the polenta. Stir continuously, using a long-handled wooden spoon (it’s a good idea to protect your hand from the ‘plopping’ polenta as it cooks, either with an oven glove or tea towel). If you add the polenta too fast, it will form lumps (if this happens, fish them out as they rarely break down during cooking). Once all the polenta is added, turn the heat to low and cook, giving 3-4 good stirs every 20 seconds or so, for 4-5 minutes.
2 When polenta is cooked, beat in butter and parmesan cheese and a little freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Immediately tip it onto a large damp tray and spread flat to 1cm (about ½”) thick. Work quickly because it soon sets (it is best done with a wet knife). Leave until cool. More info on polenta
Eggplant & topping
Cook the eggplant by slicing, dunking in oil and frying in a preheated ridged grill pan or cast-iron frying pan (skillet). Check these links for more information 5 Great Tips for Frying Eggplant Successfully Fear of Frying Should You Salt Eggplants Before Frying Them
Assembling and cooking
1 Preheat oven to 200° (400°F). Cut polenta into large shapes (I cut mine into diamond shapes, but squares will do). Lightly butter a lasagne dish or smaller dishes, and put in a layer of slightly overlapping pieces of polenta. Put on a layer of sauce, then one of eggplant and cheese, then repeat with more polenta, sauce, eggplant and cheese (keep plenty of cheese for the top). Sprinkle cheese over top of pie, melt butter and drizzle over.
2 Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Serve hot with extra cheese.
If using regular polenta, cook it according to instructions on the packet – usually around 25 minutes. If the polenta sets before you have time to spread it evenly, and it looks like a thick and lumpy slab of badly laid concrete, don’t cry! Once it’s cool, cut it into squares then cut each square through the middle. No one will know. Read more here Polenta
This is the kind of dish that can be prepared in advance. The puttanesca sauce can be made a day or two ahead, The pie can be prepared several hours ahead.
Other dishes to include in an Italian feast