A little of this, and a little of that. Casseroles can be a collection of flavor-balanced ingredients that team up to make enticing one-pan meals. Convenient comfort food.
According to “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink” (Oxford, $125), casseroles of one sort or another have been around since prehistoric times, adding that they took on a distinctive American identity along the way. Many ingredients were scarce during World War I and leftovers were turned into casserole meals. The same was true during The Great Depression of the ’30s.
Growing up in the 1950s, I thought of casseroles as troughs smothered in cream-of-something canned soup. For many, those years brought the ubiquitous tuna-potato chip casserole. Now at my house, COVID-caution has inspired casseroles to become de rigueur when entertaining friends and family. With addition of a green salad, the meal is complete. If the weather is nice, it can be easily served outside. No-fuss cuisine.
These updated casseroles are delicious, and more alluring flavor-wise than those remembered of cherished childhood concoctions.
Mexican ‘Lasagna’ with Turkey, Corn, and Pinto Beans
This tasty casserole combines the flavors of Mexican cuisine with the layered approach of an Italian lasagna. It can be assembled up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated. If made ahead, let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then cover dish tightly with oiled (on the inside) aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 450-degree oven until hot through-out, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until topping is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro before serving.
Yield: 6 to 8
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided use
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons chili 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 minced fresh cilantro, divided use
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
19 (6-inch) corn tortillas, divided use
12 ounces (3 cups) shredded Jack cheese, divided use
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, bell peppers, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, chipotle, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in ground turkey and cook, breaking up meat, until no longer pink, about 5 to 8 minutes.
2. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in broth and bring to simmer. Stir in beans, tomatoes, and corn; simmer until mixture is slightly thickened and flavors blend, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in 1/4 cup cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Meanwhile, adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of tortillas with remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Spread tortillas over 2 baking sheets (some overlapping is fine). Bake until soft and pliable, 2 to 4 minutes.
4. Spread one-third of turkey mixture over bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Top with 6 warmed tortillas, overlapping as needed, and sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Repeat with half of turkey mixture, 6 tortillas, and 1 cup cheese. Top with remaining turkey mixture. Cut remaining 6 tortillas into quarters and scatter over top. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese.
5. Bake on upper-middle rack until filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let casserole cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro 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 qualifies as vegetarian. But if you like, you can add some chopped ham or chopped cooked chicken. The dish calls for dried farfalle, the pasta shape made from little sheets of pasta dough pinched into a butterfly shape. Fusilli or smallish orecchiette can be substituted. Grated Pecorino cheese provides a zesty topping, but if you prefer you can use Parmigiano-Reggiano or a combination of Pecorino and Romano cheeses. I like to add 1/2 cup chopped parsley to the mix at the end of step 4. It adds a welcome herbal note.
Yield: 8 servings
1 pound dried farfalle pasta
Soft butter for greasing pan
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, divided use (1/4 cup+2 tablespoons+2 tablespoons)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitakes (stems removed), thinly sliced or coarsely 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 large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farfalle until al dente (just tender); drain and transfer to large bowl. Add 1/4 cup butter and toss to coat.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole and set aside.
3. In large, deep skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter on medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and toss to coat. Cook until liquid evaporates, tossing occasionally, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add wine and cover; simmer 5 minutes, adjusting heat if needed to maintain a simmer. Add half-and-half, season with salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes.
4. In small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons butter with flour; mix into a paste. Gradually add it to mushroom mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. In another small bowl, whisk milk and eggs. Stir egg mixture into mushroom mixture. When blended, pour sauce over pasta and toss well to combine.
5. Scrape mixture into prepared casserole. Sprinkle with cheese evenly over the top. Bake until golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
Source: “Crazy for Casseroles” by James Villas (Harvard Press, $18.95)
Mediterranean-Style Shrimp and Orzo Casserole
Large raw shrimp pair with saffron, garlic and orzo pasta in this scrumptious casserole. Its vibrant colors and flavors are complemented with a tangy topping of feta cheese. When cooking the orzo make sure not to overcook it, otherwise it might overcook in 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, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound dried orzo pasta, see cook’s notes
1 pinch saffron, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup 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 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced including half of dark green stalks
Cook’s notes: Orzo is a type of pasta that is similar to rice in shape and size. If you don’t have any saffron, substitute 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric; it will add nice yellow-orange color, but not the flavor. If you like, use crumbled feta that is seasoned with Mediterranean-style herbs.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Season shrimp with salt and pepper; set aside.
2. Heat oil in deep, 12-inch skillet until shimmering. Add onion, bell pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened 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 with oil and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in broth and water; cook, stirring occasionally, until grains of orzo are mostly tender yet still slightly firm at the center, about 12 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, oregano, and seasoned shrimp.
3. Pour into 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle feta over the top and bake until shrimp are cooked through, and feta is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon juice and garnish with green onions. Serve.
Source: “Cook’s Illustrated All Time Best Sunday Suppers” (America’s Test Kitchen, $22.95)
Cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected]