Maïs à la bonne femme, a cheesy polenta casserole, the perfect one-pot dinner. | tchakayiti.com

Maïs à la bonne femme, a cheesy Haitian-style polenta casserole

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Maïs à la bonne femme. It took me years to get used to this cheesy polenta casserole.

I was never happy when it was featured on the main menu. To me, it was one of those dishes my mom turned to when she didn’t feel like putting a lot of thinking into dinner. And I didn’t like that much.

It was also the dish she served on Saturdays as the only item on the menu. That casserole never came with sides. And at the time, I was not used to such meals. True to my Haitian roots, I couldn’t picture a full meal that did not include a side of meat and vivres alimentaires. Plus, my dad was not a fan either. That in itself was enough to reinforce my negative reaction to this dish. I always sided with him. And his dislike of that dish gave me one more reason to sulk.

Today, of course I have learned to accept this maïs à la bonne femme. Actually, let me rephrase that. I have actually grown fond of this casserole. It’s cheesy, well-seasoned and flavorful. The added cheese, and sometimes bechamel, give the polenta an unprecedented creaminess.

This ground beef and spicy tomato layered polenta is actually quite a cozy meal. A true definition of comfort food.

But it does take a bit more work than I imagined. If you don’t have all the layers already prepped that is. Indeed, this casserole requires layers of prepared polenta, prepared ground beef, a tomato sauce and a bechamel, if you chose to go that route.

Maïs à la bonne femme, a cheesy polenta casserole, the perfect one-pot dinner. | tchakayiti.com

Worry not, the version I am serving you today is simplified.

Just like my mother, from time to time, I am all for easy flavorful dinners. So instead of spending time prepping a bechamel, I suggest that you use cream instead. Trust me, it still makes for a creamy maïs à la bonne femme while shortening your time in the kitchen. That cream is actually my mom’s favorite trick for all her gratiné. She stopped making a bechamel years ago. And it works.

Another great news is that you could also prepare this polenta casserole with leftovers. Previously cooked polenta and prepared ground beef work just as well. You simply have to make sure to layer them with some cheese. The proof is in the maïs à la bonne femme above.

Indeed, I actually prepared this casserole from leftovers. My mom had cooked some tomato polenta the day before and had some already seasoned ground meat in the fridge. All I did, was cook the meat. I then layered everything with some shredded cheddar cheese and blistered cherry tomatoes. It was heavenly.

I now understand why my mom turned to that polenta casserole on Saturdays. It is a dish that can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to make it. To get you started, I have included a brief recipe below. Feel free to adjust the flavors to your taste.

A cheesy Haitian-style polenta casserole

This cheesy Haitian-style polenta casserole is comfort food at its best. The recipe below highlights the key ingredients and substitute cream for the traditional bechamel. Feel free to adjust the seasoning to your taste.

Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

For the meat

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2-3 garlic heads chopped
  • ½ bell pepper chopped
  • ½ Onion chopped
  • 3-4 Lime juice
  • 1 Piment bouc
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste

For the polenta

  • 1 cup of cornmeal
  • ½ tsp of salt
  • ¼ tsp of black pepper
  • 1 garlic head
  • 1 tsp of dried thyme
  • 1 piment bouc habanero pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 diced tomato
  • ½ bell pepper sliced
  • ½ onion chopped
  • 3 cups of water

For the blistered tomatoes

  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes regular tomatoes would work as well
  • ½ cup of white wine or cooking wine
  • 2-3 garlic heads chopped
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

For the creamy sauce

  • ½ cup of cream
  • 1/8 tsp of pepper
  • 3 garlic heads chopped
  • ½ piment bouc chopped
  • Lime juice optional

For the inner layers and topping

  • Grated cheddar use tête de maure cheese for a fully Haitian version

Instructions

For the meat

  1. Season the beef
  2. Heat a skillet coated with oil
  3. Add the meat to the hot pan
  4. Cook the meat fully making sure to break it into smaller pieces
  5. Brown
  6. Remove from heat and set aside

For the polenta

  1. Prepare a broth with the water, garlic head, piment bouc, salt, pepper, thyme, oil
  2. Bring to a boil
  3. Add the cornmeal, tomatoes, onion and bell pepper
  4. Stir constantly until the water is absorbed
  5. Simmer for about 15 minutes while stirring occasionally to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pan
  6. Remove the garlic head and piment bouc

For the blistered tomatoes

  1. Heat a skillet
  2. Add the olive oil and chopped garlic
  3. Cook until fragrant
  4. Incorporate the whole cherry tomatoes
  5. Pour the wine and sugar
  6. Let simmer making sure to toss the tomatoes so they can be coated on all sides

  7. When the tomatoes begin to blister and the wine is reduced to half, season them with the salt and pepper
  8. Remove from heat

For the creamy sauce

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside

Putting it all together

  1. Butter a baking dish
  2. Alternate layers of cooked polenta, ground beef, tomatoes, cream and cheese
  3. Repeat layers until there’s no more polenta or meat
  4. Top generously with cheese
  5. Bake until the cheese has fully melted and is golden

  6. Remove from oven and let cool
  7. Serve warm with your favorite salad (optional)

One Comment:

  1. Martine Romain Megie

    Croyez-moi, ce fut bon. Les melanges de reliefs donnent toujours un gout succulent aux mets. Comme on le dit souvent pour les plats, ce sera meilleur demain…

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