Tips for Making a Basic Casserole
Whether driven by a sluggish economy, a blast from the past, or just a yearning for a piece of edible comfort, the casserole is back! Eye-rolling, ho-hum responses aside, no kitchen can deny the casserole’s many perks. They’re easy, they’re quick to prepare and assemble, you can save them ahead for later, and they’re portable. Oh yeah, they also fill the house with the warm aroma of a home-baked meal.
The casserole is the ultimate go-to solution for most any cooking need. If you can stretch your mind beyond the gloppy tuna casserole some of us choked down in childhood, there is a whole other side to this one-pot cooking method you will find yourself turning to again and again.
Casserole Name Origin
Perhaps it will help to know its name comes from the French. It takes on such sophistication pronounced with a smooth French accent. One of French cooking’s paradigms is the cassoulet, a bean stew of sorts which is cooked in a cassolle, or casserole. The harmony of flavors in this slow cooked dish is very much the surprising combination of flavors in the casserole.
Casserole Hodge-Podge List of Ingredients
Therein lies its beauty: its ingredients. What other dish combines a seemingly hodge-podge list of ingredients and creates an aromatic, warm and bubbly masterpiece? Conjure some creative adventure when gathering ingredients. Fling open those pantry doors and pull with gusto those items that beckon. Don’t be afraid to do a fridge-dump while you’re at it. Limp vegetables? Leftovers that are biding time before they go on compost duty? Pull them out and get casseroling!
A basic casserole recipe combines a starch, a vegetable, a protein, a sauce, a topping, and, of course, seasonings. A little experimentation will prove it quite flexible to clever whims and a beckoning larder.
The starch is 2 cups of cooked pasta, rice, potatoes, or even cubed bread. This is a great way to make use of leftover rice and potatoes and day-old bread and heels. Pasta is so quick to prepare — grab a handful of spirals, bowties, macaroni, or spaghetti. Half-used bags? Make it a mix.
Protein can be two cups of cooked cheese, boneless chicken, ground beef or turkey, chopped ham, canned tuna or salmon, or whatever you have on hand. Depending on what’s available, substitute some or all of the two cups with vegetables. What a thrifty use of those semi-identifiable Ziplocs hiding in the freezer.
Vegetables can be fresh cooked, frozen, or canned. The basic recipe calls for one cup. Try to always keep a frozen mix of veggies and buy whatever is cheap and in season. Frozen corn, peas, and carrots bake well in a casserole, and with fresh broccoli, cauliflower, and squash or spinach, you can’t miss.
The sauce, which binds the casserole ingredients, is usually condensed cream of you-fill-in-the-blank soup, but it can be made with sour cream, gravy, ricotta cheese or any number of fill-ins. Rotate the stock of cream of mushroom, chicken, and celery soups, and mix one can with a half can of milk or cream for an easy sauce.
Toppings are the most versatile part of the casserole concoction. Go ahead and get down and dirty with crushed potato or tortilla chips, smashed Ritz crackers or croutons, breadcrumbs, or cheese. These are traditional toppers, but stretch the limits and add crisp bacon crumbles, fresh green onions, or either dried or fresh garden herbs like parsley, basil, and thyme.
The casserole gets huge bragging rights for its versatility. They can be made as healthy or as gourmet as you choose. Any casserole can be made either rich and calorie laden or light and low cal.
Go ahead and rekindle the homemade comfort of the casserole. And don’t be shy about giving an old favorite recipe a modern makeover to suit your family. Enjoy the no waste, quick comfort of this old friend.
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