This mouthwatering polenta beef casserole from Slavonia is packed with hidden health benefits to endure those long winter months yet light enough to enjoy all summer too! This comfort meal is made with ground beef, cornmeal, savoy cabbage, carrots, and more!
It's easy to make ahead, healthy, and it feeds a crowd!
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NOTE: This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for photos and content.
POLENTA BEEF CASSEROLE aka SLAVONIAN SNEAKY CASSEROLE
The Slavonian sneaky casserole will have you wonder: what in the heck is a Slavonian casserole, and why is it sneaky? Slavonia is a region in Croatia (Europe) from where this recipe is originated. Hence, I’m bringing you a taste of my homeland.
But you’re from Bosnia, I hear you say. True, I wasn't born in Croatia, but both countries belonged to Yugoslavia long before I was born. For a larger part of my life, and before they separated, that was my home. I still feel equally connected to them all.
Now to the second question: why is it sneaky? You’ll love this…wait for it…there is a whole head of savoy cabbage hiding in this casserole! You wouldn't be able to find it even if you looked through the magnifier glass.
How awesome if you have picky eaters, like my husband. He hates cabbage and is not a fan of polenta, another ingredient in this casserole.
Mind you, I wasn't trying to trick him into eating things he doesn't like; he’s not five. But, I also didn't disclose that information until after he finished his second plate. He liked it so!
If you’re turning up your nose at cabbage or polenta, humor me please and make this casserole once. It might not turn you into a cabbage or polenta lover, but you will love this casserole. I guarantee it!
HERE'S WHY YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE THIS CASSEROLE:
- For starters, who doesn't like casseroles, amirite?
- It's the ultimate fall comfort food you can also enjoy all summer long.
- Your picky eaters will get their vegetable intake because they won't know they're hidden in this casserole.
- This casserole is easy to make.
- It's nourishing.
- It's lower in carbs than traditional pasta or rice casseroles.
- Polenta is gluten-free and an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and protein.
- Polenta is low in fat, rich in Vitamin A and C, and high in beta-carotene.
- Cabbage provides fiber, vitamins A, C, K, and B6 plus calcium, magnesium, and iron, to name a few.
- With all those health benefits, what’s not to love?
Besides, the flavor combination is fantastic! Centuries ago, polenta was thought peasant food because it was plentiful and inexpensive and a good winter diet staple when other food was limited.
Okay, so now you're probably thinking, uhm...so...
WHAT'S IN THIS POLENTA CASSEROLE?
Vegetables - savoy cabbage, carrot, celery, and crushed tomatoes
Protein - ground beef
Grains - cornmeal and flour
Aromatics - onion
Seasoning - salt
Spices - nutmeg, allspice, and black pepper
Herbs - basil, parsley, and oregano
Fat - olive oil and butter
Liquid - water and red wine
Dairy - milk, butter, and parmesan cheese
Or, if you are a visual person like me, here are ingredients for each layer:
FOR THE POLENTA LAYER YOU WILL NEED:
FOR THE MEAT SAUCE LAYER YOU'LL NEED:
INGREDIENTS YOU'LL NEED FOR THE BÉCHAMEL SAUCE:
And now you're maybe thinking...
CAN I MAKE BÉCHAMEL SAUCE GLUTEN FREE?
Why yes, yes, you can! Use GF flour instead of all-purpose flour or cornstarch (for Americans, cornflour for the rest of the world) to make the béchamel sauce.
If using cornstarch for gluten-free casserole version:
- Once the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat.
- Whisk in 1 tablespoon cornstarch (always use half of what the recipe calls for all-purpose flour).
- Add half of the milk and whisk vigorously until you have a thickish consistency.
- Put the pan back over the heat. Add the remaining milk bit by bit, stirring all the time.
- Cook until the sauce thickens. Season with spices.
Wondering what the difference is between cornstarch, cornmeal, corn flour, and polenta? It's all laid out for you in this corn pie recipe post.
Polenta cooks fast on the stovetop, in a slow cooker, instant pot, or rice cooker, it's economical and a great binder in casseroles, soups, scrambles, etc.
Mouthwatering Polenta Beef Casserole from Slavonia is made with ground beef, #cornmeal, savoy cabbage, carrots, and more! Easy to make ahead, #nourishing, and it feeds a crowd! #casserole #polenta
HOW TO MAKE SLAVONIAN CASSEROLE WITH POLENTA?
*Details and the printable recipe are available at the bottom of this post.
- Make the polenta and cabbage layer - prep all the vegetables. Cook the shredded savoy cabbage in water; combine cornmeal with water. Add the wet cornmeal to the pan with cabbage; cook until the mixture thickens.
- Make the meat sauce - sauté the onions, carrots, and celery. Add the ground beef and seasonings and cook until meat is no longer pink. Mix in the wine and tomatoes; cook a bit longer.
- Make the béchamel sauce - Add the flour to melted butter and cook, constantly stirring, until the paste cooks and bubbles. Whisk in milk and continue to stir until sauce thickens — season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
- Assemble - Pour polenta into a greased casserole dish. Add the layer of meat sauce and finish with béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley; bake.
MORE POLENTA RECIPES LIKE THIS:
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for Polenta Beef Casserole
MAKING THIS RECIPE OR OTHERS?
Slavonian Polenta Beef Casserole
- Baking dish
- 3 cups water divided
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 small head savoy cabbage, thinly shredded about 1 lbs
For meat sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion diced
- 1 carrot coarsely grated
- 1 celery stalk chopped
- 1 lb. ground beef
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon fresh or dried parsley plus more for garnish
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon fresh or dried basil
- 1 pinch allspice optional
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 8 oz. crushed tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the béchamel sauce:
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ cup milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dash of nutmeg
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- In a large saucepan bring 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add 1 small head of shredded savoy cabbage and simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté 1 diced onion, 1 grated carrot, and 1 chopped celery stalk until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1 pound ground beef and seasonings (1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon basil, and a pinch of allspice) and cook until meat is no longer pink. Mix in 1/2 cup dry red wine and 8oz. crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
- In a small bowl, combine 1 cup cornmeal with 1 cup water until all cornmeal is wet (prevents it from clumping up). Add the wet cornmeal to the pan with cabbage (do not drain the cabbage) and swiftly whisk it to combine. Immediately lower the heat and cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles, about two minutes. Don’t let it brown. Add 1 1/4 cups milk and continue to stir until sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste and a dash of nutmeg.
- Pour polenta (cooked cornmeal) into a greased casserole dish. Add the layer of meat sauce and finish with béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and some chopped fresh parsley.
- Bake on 375 degrees Fahrenheit preheated oven for 20 minutes. Let cool before serving. Serving suggestion: serve with a cold glass of your favorite beer.
- See the post for how to make the béchamel sauce gluten free.
- You can easily reheat the casserole in the microwave.
- This casserole is also freezable!
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