A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Casseroles can be a collection of flavorfully balanced ingredients that come together to create tantalizing stews. Comfortable feel-good food.
According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink (Oxford, $125), casseroles of one type or another have been around since prehistoric times, adding that along the way they’ve acquired a distinctively American identity. Many ingredients were in short supply during World War I and leftovers were made into casseroles. The same was true during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Growing up in the 1950s, I pictured casseroles as troughs smothered in a creamy can of soup. For many, those years brought the ubiquitous tuna and potato chip casserole. Now, in my home, COVID-Caution has inspired casseroles to become a natural part of entertaining friends and family. The meal is complete with a green salad. When the weather is nice, it can easily be served outside. Simple kitchen.
These updated casseroles are delicious and more flavorful than those reminiscent of cherished children’s concoctions.
Mexican ‘lasagna’ with turkey, corn and pinto beans
This delicious casserole combines the flavors of Mexican cuisine with the layered approach of an Italian lasagna. It can be set up and refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance. If prepared previously, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then cover bowl tightly with oiled (on the inside) aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 450 degree oven until hot throughout, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until topping is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with coriander before serving.
Yield: 6 to 8
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, shared use
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, seeded, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon canned chopped chipotle chili in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed, drained
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 3/4 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
6 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, shared use
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
19 (6 inch) corn tortillas, split use
12 ounces (3 cups) shredded jack cheese, use divided
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, paprika and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chipotle, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the ground turkey and cook, shredding the meat, until no longer pink, about 5 to 8 minutes.
2. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Gradually pour in the broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in beans, tomatoes, and corn; simmer until mixture has thickened slightly and flavors are blended, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in 1/4 cup cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, set the oven racks to the top-middle and bottom-middle positions and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of the tortillas with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Divide tortillas between 2 baking sheets (some overlapping is okay). Bake until soft and pliable, 2 to 4 minutes.
4. Spread one-third of the turkey mixture over the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish. Top with 6 heated tortillas, overlapping as needed, and sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Repeat with half the turkey mixture, 6 tortillas, and 1 cup cheese. Top with the remaining turkey mixture. Quarter the remaining 6 tortillas and spread on top. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese.
5. Bake on the top middle rack until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let the casserole cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining coriander and serve.
Source: Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated All Time Best Sunday Suppers (America’s Test Kitchen, $22.95)
Farfalle and Wild Mushroom Supreme
As written, this casserole is considered vegetarian. But if you want, you can add some chopped ham or chopped boiled chicken. The dish calls for dried farfalle, the pasta shape made from small sheets of pasta dough pressed together into a butterfly shape. Fusilli or smaller orecchiette can be substituted. Shredded pecorino cheese provides a savory topping, but if you prefer you can use Parmigiano-Reggiano or a combination of pecorino and romano cheeses. At the end of step 4, I like to add 1/2 cup chopped parsley to the mixture. It adds a welcome herbal note.
Yield: 8 servings
1 pound dried farfalle pasta
Soft butter for greasing the pan
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, split use (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitake (stems removed), thinly sliced or roughly chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups half and half
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
1. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the farfalle al dente (just tender); drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup butter and toss to coat.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 3 quart casserole dish and set aside.
3. In a large, deep skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and toss to coat. Cook until liquid has evaporated, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine and cover; Simmer for 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a simmer. Add half and half, season with salt and pepper and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
4. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons butter with flour; mix to a paste. Gradually add it to the mushroom mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. In another small bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Stir egg mixture into mushroom mixture. Once mixed, pour the sauce over the pasta and mix well.
5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle evenly with cheese. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.
Source: Crazy for Casseroles by James Villas (Harvard Press, $18.95)
Mediterranean style shrimp orzo casserole
Large pair of raw shrimp with saffron, garlic and orzo pasta in this delicious casserole. Its vibrant colors and flavors are complemented by a tangy feta cheese topping. When preparing the orzo, be careful not to overcook it or it may overcook during the final baking in the oven.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 1/2 pounds raw large shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), peeled, deveined
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, seeded, seeded and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound dried orzo pasta, see cook’s notes
1 pinch saffron, see chef’s notes
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup of water
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
12 ounces (3 cups) feta cheese, crumbled, see cook’s notes
4 spring onions, trimmed, thinly sliced, including half of the dark green stems
Chef’s Notes: Orzo is a type of pasta that resembles rice in shape and size. If you don’t have saffron, substitute 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric; It adds a nice yellow-orange color but not the flavor. Use crumbled feta seasoned with Mediterranean herbs, if you like.
1. Set the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season shrimp with salt and pepper; put aside.
2. Heat oil in a deep 12-inch skillet until shimmering. Add onion, paprika and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add orzo, saffron, and zest; Cook, stirring frequently, until orzo is coated in oil and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. stir in broth and water; cook, stirring occasionally, until the orzo grains are mostly soft but still slightly firm in the center, about 12 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, oregano, and seasoned shrimp.
3. Pour into a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish. Sprinkle feta on top and bake until shrimp are cooked through and feta is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Drizzle with lemon juice and garnish with spring onions. To serve.
Source: “Cook’s Illustrated Best Sunday Dinners Ever” (America’s Test Kitchen, $22.95)
Question about cooking? Contact Cathy Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org