Butternut Squash Polenta Casserole with Greens

Some recipes are worth the extra time and the number of dishes. You know the ones I'm talking about. 

The ones that have you in the kitchen two hours before you're going to serve them. The ones that leave you staring in dismay at a sink filled with pots and pans and spatulas. The ones that make your counter look like a small army of kindergartners were doing experimental finger painting with food. 

For a recent potluck with friends, I pulled out a favorite recipe from one of the Moosewood cookbooks and gave myself plenty of time and an empty sink. 

For me, casseroles are comfort food. I have so many wonderful memories from back as far as I can remember that are wrapped up in potlucks and casseroles and plates brimming with a little of this and a little of that. There's a coziness to sharing a meal that everyone in the room helped prepare. Of course, I think I felt that even before I was old enough to help in the kitchen. Perhaps potlucks are just cozy affairs no matter what.

Some casseroles are quick and easy - just throw all the ingredients into a dish, swish 'em around, and bake. 

You've probably gathered that this isn't one of them. With three layers that each need to be cooked and prepared separately, it's labor (and dish) intensive. But it's so delicious and hearty that I keep making it anyway. 

Butternut Squash Polenta Casserole with Greens
From Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

Polenta Layer
2 1/3 cups water
2/3 cup whole grain cornmeal 
2 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (we used soy cheese)

Greens Layer
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
8 cups stemmed and chopped collards (or kale or swiss chard)
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Squash Layer
1 1/2 cups steamed and mashed butternut squash
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (we used daiya cheese)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

2. Polenta layer:  Bring the water to a boil and quickly whisk in the cornmeal. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, salt, and thyme and cook on low heat, stirring often, until the polenta is thick and creamy (about 10 minutes). Stir in the cheese. Pour into a lightly oiled 8 or 9-inch square baking pan and set aside. 

3. Greens layer: Warm the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook briefly, stirring constantly. Add the greens, water, and salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender and bright green (about 5-7 minutes). Drain and spread the greens over the polenta.

4. Squash layer: Chop and steam the squash until tender and then mash in a large bowl (canned would work as well). Stir in the egg, salt, pepper, and half of the cheese. Spread the squash mixture over the greens and then sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.

5. Bake covered for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.