sausage, tomatoes and lots of cheese top a polenta
casserole from "The Make-Ahead Cook" by the
editors at America's Test Kitchen
away from the sous-vide machine and microwave. It’s time
to embrace the casserole, that oven-baked creation, and give
it the respect it deserves.
legacy is rich, having sustained humans for centuries —
no, not the green bean casserole your granny made in the ’60s,
but some of the culinary world’s greatest hits: the pork,
sausage and bean cassoulet from France, eggplant and lamb
moussaka from Greece and that curly pasta, cheese and sauce
lasagna from Italy.
may not be called casseroles, but they are. That, perhaps,
is where the confusion comes in, for the word casserole
refers not only to a prepared dish but to the cooking vessel
are two histories of casseroles. There’s a medieval
history and the modern history. The modern history really
begins in America," says Clifford A. Wright, author of
"Bake Until Bubbly: The Ultimate Casserole
Cookbook" and "Hot & Cheesy."
the cooking vessel, which we usually think of as being
rectangular and ceramic, really began to take off in the
late 19th century," Wright says. That was thanks to
various potteries that were producing a variety of ceramic
casseroles that worked well in ovens, coinciding with a time
when in-home ovens were becoming more common in America.
history reflects our history, helping us stretch foods
during tough times (world wars, economic depressions) and
incorporating scientific advances (ceramic bakeware, canned
foods, frozen foods), Wright notes. They joined us at
potlucks and church suppers. Every region in America has
one. They show up in movies, TV shows and on YouTube in
musical homages. Many have colorful names: Strata. Supper.
Supremes. Delights. Hotdish. "There’s one called ham
medley," Wright says. "It’s made of chicken on
the bone, with onion, bechamel sauce, ham and Swiss
remembers a casserole his mother made in the ’50s.
"It was the simplest thing in the world. It was just
frankfurters, beer and sauerkraut."
proved to be time savers, versatile and very economical for
home cooks. Yet, Wright points out, in all those early
20th-century cookbooks or magazines deliciousness or taste
was never an issue as long as you get it on the table
quickly. "Taste didn’t matter because it wasn’t
about taste. Now they’re starting to have a good name
because people are starting to pay a lot more attention to
A BETTER CASSEROLE
well-made casserole often features a mix of textures,
sometimes colors and a nice amount of browning, adding
another dimension of flavor with that caramelizing. There
are some guidelines for building a good one.
you need to decide its purpose.
it’s simply a side dish, say a green bean or cauliflower
you’re making a casserole as a one-pot dish, in other
words, you want to feed your family and you only want to
cook one thing — the casserole — then you’re going to
want some protein, some starch and some vegetable,"
want to pay attention to two things. One, is it balanced and
do all the foods in it cook, more or less, at the same time?
Let’s say you have cubes of potatoes. What are the things
that can go in the casserole that will cook in the same
amount of time that it takes the potatoes to cook?"
asks Wright. "You might want to use pork tenderloin,
for example, rather than pork shoulder because it will take
about the same amount of time as the potatoes.
other thing you’ve got to remember is it’s got to have
some kind of moisture to it. If the food itself is not
emitting the moisture, what is the moisture going to be? Is
it going to be a broth or a little sauce? And then you’ve
got to decide how healthy it should be," Wright adds.
"Are you going to put a bechamel or Mornay sauce on
top? Sure makes it delicious but maybe you don’t want that
much cream and cheese. So you adjust it."
Rosbottom’s "Sunday Casseroles: Complete Comfort in
One Dish" (Chronicle Books, $24.95) covers a vast array
of recipes, a cassoulet rapide to a turkey and corn tortilla
matchup and a baked French toast with apples, apricots and
cherries morning dish. As she notes in her book’s intro:
"A good marriage is like a casserole; only those
responsible for it really know what goes into it" —
her casserole tips:
Shallower dishes tend to cook more quickly than deeper ones.
Unless there’s a lot of braising liquid, butter or oil
baking dishes to prevent food from sticking.
Creamy cheeses that melt easily can be used instead of white
or cheese sauces; Gorgonzola and mascarpone are good
When cooking pasta for casseroles, make sure to season the
water with salt, but do not add oil to the pasta water or
rinse the drained cooked pasta — both will prevent sauces
from adhering to the pasta.
addition, or in place of breadcrumb toppings, use toasted
nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, pecans).
MOMENTS IN CASSEROLE HISTORY
Pyrex breaks into cookware. Bessie Littleton needed to bake
a cake, but her casserole dish was broken. She asked her
Corning Glass Works scientist husband to bring home some
glass to use instead. He brought her the sawed-off bottoms
of some battery jars. And thus, Pyrex, the glass cookware
company, was born.
Spot the silver-lidded casserole dish in Norman Rockwell’s
classic Thanksgiving family dinner "Freedom from
Eugenia Japp urges husband Leonard (who founded Jay’s
Potato Chips) to put a recipe on the chip bags. He used her
version of a tuna fish casserole topped with crushed potato
Harry S. Truman asks Americans to help post-war recovery in
Europe through "Meatless Tuesdays" and other
efforts in his "Food Conservation Speech." Wife
Bess created a casserole recipe (yet another tuna, this one
with noodles) as a tasty alternative.
Green bean casserole is born. Campbell Soup Co.’s Dorcas
Reilly wanted to create a quick and easy recipe using two
common items in American kitchens: green beans and Campbell’s
Cream of Mushroom Soup.
Lasagna stars in the TV show "Friends" when Rachel
(Jennifer Aniston) loses Barry’s engagement ring in Monica’s
(Courteney Cox) lasagna in "The One with the Sonogram
at the End."
A CorningWare casserole dish with its blue cornflower design
sits in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American
History, donated that year by Mrs. Anne L. Bernat, who
received a set for her 1967 wedding.
"Cheesecake Casserole" — the movie. Four friends
come together on the weekend before college graduation and
make a cheesecake casserole. A lot has changed since they
met freshmen year, and the girls worry if their friendship
will keep them together for years to come.
Campbellkitchen.com; Internet Movie Database; Norman
Rockwell Museum (NRM.org); National Park Service Museum
Collections: Harry S. Truman (cr.nps.gov); Pyrexware.com;
RIGATONI WITH BROCCOLI
from "Hot & Cheesy" by Clifford A. Wright
pounds broccoli, stems and florets separated
tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for greasing casserole
hot whole milk
cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
teaspoon salt, about
ground black pepper
teaspoon cayenne pepper
ounces mozzarella, diced
cup dried breadcrumbs
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large pot of
well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add rigatoni;
cook, 6 minutes. Cut the broccoli stems into 1-inch pieces.
Add stems to the pot with the pasta; cook, 2 minutes. Add
florets; cook about 5 minutes longer. (Never cook broccoli
longer than 7 minutes.) Drain pasta and broccoli; transfer
to a bowl.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Stir in flour; cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Remove saucepan
from heat; pour in milk slowly, whisking all the time.
Return to heat; add Parmesan cheese. Cook until thicker,
about 10 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper and
cayenne. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.
the mozzarella and half the sauce to the rigatoni and
broccoli; toss. Pour into a buttered 10-inch casserole dish;
spread evenly. Spoon remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle with
breadcrumbs. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake until
golden and crispy on top, about 20 minutes.
information per serving: 695 calories, 31 g fat, 18 g
saturated fat, 79 mg cholesterol, 66 g carbohydrates, 36 g
protein, 936 mg sodium, 5 g fiber
POLENTA CASSEROLE WITH SAUSAGE
1 hour, 35 minutes
6 to 8 servings
from "The Make-Ahead Cook" by the editors at
America’s Test Kitchen ($26.95). Can be made up to 24
cups whole milk
teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
coarse ground polenta
ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
tablespoons unsalted butter
ground black pepper
tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
onion, finely chopped
pounds sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
garlic cloves, minced
teaspoon red pepper flakes
(28 ounces) diced tomatoes
ounces baby spinach
ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
Heat water and milk to a boil in a large saucepan over
medium-high heat; stir in 1 teaspoon salt. Very slowly pour
polenta into boiling liquid while stirring constantly in a
circular motion with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to a gentle
simmer; partially cover and cook, stirring often and making
sure to scrape bottom and sides of pot clean. Cook until
polenta no longer has a raw cornmeal taste, all liquid has
been absorbed and mixture has a smooth uniform consistency
but is very loose, about 15 minutes.
Remove polenta from heat. Stir in Parmesan cheese and
butter; season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour polenta
into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish; cool to room temperature,
about 30 minutes.
While polenta cools, heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over
medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1/2
teaspoon salt; cook until onion is softened, about 5
minutes. Add sausage. Cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon
into large chunks, until meat is lightly browned, about 10
minutes. Stir in garlic, pepper flakes and tomatoes; cook
until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir
in spinach, 1 handful at a time, until wilted. Season with
salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature. Spread cooled
sausage mixture over cooled polenta. If not baking right
away, wrap dish tightly with plastic wrap; refrigerate up to
finish, unwrap dish and cover tightly with greased aluminum
foil. Bake in a 400-degree oven until hot throughout and
bubbling at edges, about 30 minutes. Remove foil; sprinkle
casserole with mozzarella. Bake uncovered until cheese
melts, 10-15 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
information per serving (for 8 servings): 445 calories, 24 g
fat, 11 g saturated fat, 54 mg cholesterol, 36 g
carbohydrates, 21 g protein, 1,438 mg sodium, 5 g fiber