A little of this, and a little of that. Cassers can be a collection of ingredients with balanced flavors that come together to create mouth-watering one-pot meals. Convenient comfort food.
According to “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink” (Oxford, $125), saucepans of one kind or another have been around since prehistoric times, adding that they’ve acquired a distinctive American identity along the way. Many ingredients were in short supply during World War I and leftovers were turned into casseroles. The same was true during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Growing up in the 1950s, I thought of casseroles as smothered hollows in a canned soup with cream of something. For many, those years brought the ubiquitous tuna and potato chip casserole. Now in my house, COVID-caution has inspired pans to become de rigueur for entertaining friends and family. With the addition of a green salad, the meal is complete. If the weather is good, it can easily be served outside. Kitchen without fuss.
These updated casseroles are delicious and more enticing in flavor than those remembered from cherished childhood concoctions.
Mexican “Lasagna” with Turkey, Corn and Pinto Beans
This savory 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 stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, then cover the dish tightly with oiled foil (inside) and bake in a preheated 450 degree oven until until hot, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking 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 pepper in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups of chicken broth
1 can (15 ounces) pinto beans, rinsed, drained
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
1 3/4 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
6 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided use
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
19 corn tortillas (6 inches), divided use
12 ounces (3 cups) shredded jack cheese, divided use
1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, peppers and 1/2 tsp salt; cook until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, chipotle, chili powder and 1/4 tsp 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 the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in broth and bring to a boil. Stir in beans, tomatoes and corn; simmer until mixture thickens slightly and flavors blend, about 10 minutes. Off the heat, stir in 1/4 cup cilantro and the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Meanwhile, adjust the oven racks to the upper middle and lower middle positions and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of the tortillas with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Spread tortillas on 2 baking sheets (a little overlap is acceptable). Bake until tender and supple, 2 to 4 minutes.
4. Spread one-third of the turkey mixture in the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with 6 warmed tortillas, overlapping if necessary, and sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Repeat with half the turkey mixture, 6 tortillas and 1 cup cheese. Top with remaining turkey mixture. Cut the remaining 6 tortillas into quarters and spread them on top. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese.
5. Bake on middle top rack until topping is bubbly and topping is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let the casserole cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the 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 want, you can add chopped ham or chopped cooked chicken. The dish calls for dried farfalle, the form of pasta made from small sheets of dough pinched in the shape of a butterfly. Fusilli or small orecchiettes can be substituted. Grated Pecorino cheese provides a tangy 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. This adds a welcome herbal note.
Yield: 8 servings
1 pound dried farfalle pasta
Soft butter to grease the mold
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, divided use (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp + 2 tbsp)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitake (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 a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the farfalle until al dente (just tender); drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup butter and toss to coat well.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 3-quart saucepan and set aside.
3. In a large, deep skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat. Cook until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add wine and cover; simmer 5 minutes, adjusting heat if necessary to maintain simmer. Add half and half, salt and pepper and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
4. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of butter with flour; mix into a paste. Gradually add to mushroom mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. In another small bowl, whisk the milk and eggs. Stir the egg mixture into the mushroom mixture. Once mixed, pour the sauce over the pasta and toss well to combine.
5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle cheese evenly on top. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
Source: “Crazy for Pans” by James Villas (Harvard Press, $18.95)
Mediterranean Shrimp and Orzo Casserole
Large raw shrimp served with saffron, garlic and orzo pasta in this delicious casserole. Its vibrant colors and flavors are complemented by a tangy filling of feta cheese. When cooking the orzo, be sure not to overcook it or it may overcook in the final baking.
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 of chicken broth
1 cup of water
1 can (28 ounces) 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 with half of the dark green stems
Cook’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; this will add a nice yellow-orange color, but not the flavor. If desired, use crumbled feta seasoned with Mediterranean-style herbs.
1. Set oven rack to middle position and heat 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, bell pepper and 1/2 tsp 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 the 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 tender but still slightly firm in the center, about 12 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, oregano and seasoned shrimp.
3. Pour into a 9 x 13 inch baking 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 green onions. To serve.
Source: “Cook’s Illustrated Best Sunday Soupers” (America’s Test Kitchen, $22.95)
Kitchen issue? Contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected]