Casseroles. How does one describe a casserole? For some, it conjures up the image of mothers placing a big pan of something or other on the table for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For others, it’s comfort food that is loaded with different ingredients. Even yet, others may not even realize what a casserole is. That’s why we had to do a little digging.
Turns out, casseroles are more than that tuna noodle casserole some of us terrifyingly remember, or maybe it’s that green bean casserole that seems to make its way to the Thanksgiving or Christmas table. Not many people use the word casserole anymore but make no mistake, they still exist – they just go by another name.
By definition, a casserole is any food that has protein, vegetables, and a binder, like cheese, cooked in a casserole dish or casserole pan then baked in the oven. Think of Shepherd’s pie. Also, think lasagna. Even those au gratin potatoes or dishes such as Moussaka. Yep, all casseroles. Nowadays we call casseroles one-pot or one-pot dishes. Sometimes we drop the word altogether.
We’re not saying let’s bring back the word casserole, but let’s look at some of the best casserole recipes out there.
Chicken Enchilada Casserole
(by Rick Bayless)
- 3 pounds (18 to 24 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
- 1 large fresh poblano chile
- 1.5 tablespoons vegetable oil or rich-tasting pork lard, plus a little oil for spraying the tortillas
- 1 medium white onion, chopped
- 2 cups chicken broth, plus a little extra if needed
- .5 cup Mexican crema, crème fraiche or heavy (whipping) cream
- About 2 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken, preferably grilled, roasted, or rotisserie chicken
- 2/3 cup shredded Jack cheese or Chihuahua cheese
- 12 corn tortillas
- A few sliced rounds of white onion, separated into rings, for garnish
- Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish
- .25 cup freshly grated Mexican queso añejo for garnish
- The sauce. Roast the tomatillos and chile on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler, until they’re darkly roasted (they’ll be blackened in spots), about 6 minutes. Flip everything over and roast the other side— 5 or 6 minutes more will give you splotchy-black and blistered tomatillos and poblanos that are cooked through. Cool. When the chile is cool enough to handle, rub off the blackened skin of the chile, then pull out the stems and seed pod. Tear the chile open and rinse briefly to remove any stray seeds and bits of skin, then roughly chop. Transfer the chiles and tomatillos with their juice to a blender or food processor and blend to a smooth puree.
- In a medium-size (4- or 5-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat the oil or lard over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, and, when the pot is noticeably hotter, stir in the tomatillo puree. Cook, stirring, until darker in color and gets thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the broth, partially cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about ½ teaspoon. The sauce should be a slightly soupy consistency — not as thick as spaghetti sauce. If it is too thick, stir in a little additional broth. Keep warm over low heat.
- Other preliminaries. Stir the crema (or one of its stand-ins) into the sauce. Put the chicken in a bowl and stir ½ cup of the hot sauce mixture into it. Taste and season with additional salt if you think it needs it. Have the cheese at the ready.
- Finishing the enchiladas. Heat the tortillas by spraying with the oil, then sliding them into a microwaveable plastic bag. Fold the top over but don’t seal it. Microwave on high for 1 minute to create a steamy environment around the tortillas and then let them stand 2 to 3 minutes before using. Smear about ¼ cup of the warm sauce over the bottom of 4 to 6 nine-inch individual ovenproof baking/serving dishes or smear about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking dish. Working quickly so the tortillas stay hot and pliable, roll a portion of the chicken into each tortilla, douse evenly with the remaining sauce, then sprinkle on the shredded melting cheese and bake at 400 degrees until the enchiladas are hot through (the cheese will have begun to brown), about 15 minutes.
- Garnish with añejo cheese, onion rings, and cilantro sprigs and serve immediately.
- 3/4 lb. lasagna noodles
- 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 lb. ground beef
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 (32-0z.) jars marinara
- 16 oz. whole milk ricotta
- .5 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
- .25 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
- 1 large egg
- 2 lb. sliced mozzarella
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions until al dente, less 2 minutes. Drain and drizzle a bit of olive oil to prevent noodles from sticking together.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium-high heat, heat oil. Cook ground beef until no longer pink, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and drain fat. Return beef to skillet and add garlic and oregano and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, then add marinara and stir until warmed through.
- Combine ricotta, 1/4 cup Parmesan, parsley, and egg in a large mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- In a large casserole dish, evenly spread a quarter of the meat sauce across the bottom of the dish, then top with a single layer of lasagna noodles, a layer of ricotta mixture, a single layer of mozzarella, and a layer of meat sauce. Repeat layers, topping the last layer of noodles with meat sauce, Parmesan, and mozzarella.
- Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes, then increase temperature to 400º and bake uncovered for 18 to 20 minutes.
- Garnish with parsley before serving.
Tater Tot Casserole
(by Serious Eats)
For the Mushroom Sauce:
- 5 cups (570g) button mushrooms, washed, dried, and quartered
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 12 sprigs thyme, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2.25 cups (450g) whole milk
- 1/2 onion (125g), peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 cloves (8g) garlic, smashed
- 2 tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons (25g) flour
For the Ground Beef:
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil
- 1 pound (454g) 90% lean ground beef
- 1 small (250g) onion, diced
- 2 cloves (8g) garlic, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon (8g) all-purpose flour
- .75 cup (180ml) chicken stock, either homemade or low-sodium store-bought
- .75 cup (100g) frozen or fresh peas
- .75 cup (100g) frozen or fresh corn kernels
- .25 cup (30g) chopped parsley
- .25 cup (30g) chopped chives
- 1 tablespoon (15g) Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) Worcestershire sauce
- 1 pound (454g) Tater Tots, frozen or homemade
- Ketchup, for serving
- For the Mushroom Sauce: Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). In a large bowl, toss mushrooms with olive oil and 6 sprigs thyme, then season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread seasoned mushrooms on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until deeply browned, about 45 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and increase oven temperature to 375 degrees F (190°C).
- In a medium saucepot, combine roasted mushrooms with 6 remaining thyme sprigs, milk, onion, and garlic and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and steep, covered, for 1 hour. Strain, pressing gently on the solids.
- Wipe out pot and return to stovetop. Melt butter over medium heat until foaming subsides, then add flour and mix into a paste. Continue cooking until raw flour smell is gone, about 5 minutes. Whisking constantly, add mushroom-infused milk in a thin, steady stream, or in increments of a couple of tablespoons at a time, whisking thoroughly and getting into all corners of the pot to maintain a homogeneous texture. Sauce will initially become very thick, then get very thin once all milk is added.
- Heat, stirring, until sauce comes to a simmer and begins to thicken slightly, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- For the Ground Beef: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and break up into crumbles with a whisk or potato masher. Cook until well browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain off any excess fat, leaving only about 1 tablespoon (15ml) in skillet along with meat.
- Reduce heat to medium, add onion and garlic to ground meat, and cook for about 2 minutes. Add flour and cook an additional minute, until blond. Add chicken stock and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and finish ground beef mixture with peas, corn, parsley, chives, Dijon, and Worcestershire. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Scrape meat mixture into a 2-quart baking dish.
- To Finish: Top meat with mushroom sauce and arrange Tater Tots on top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until Tater Tots are crispy and golden brown. Serve with squiggles of ketchup.
French Toast Casserole
(by The Kitchn)
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- Cooking spray
- 1 (1-pound) loaf unsliced sourdough, Italian, or French (not baguette) bread
- 8 large eggs
- 3 cups half-and-half, or 1 1/2 cups each whole milk and heavy cream
- .75 cup packed light brown sugar, divided
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- .75 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- .5 teaspoon ground nutmeg, divided
- 2 ounces chopped nuts (about 1/2 cup), such as pecans or walnuts
- .25 cup all-purpose flour
- Warm maple syrup or powdered sugar, for serving
- Fresh berries, for serving
- Soften the butter. Place 4 tablespoons unsalted butter on the counter to soften slightly.
- Prepare the baking dish. Coat a 9×13-inch baking dish or other 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
- Tear the bread into bite-size pieces. Tear 1 loaf sourdough bread into bite-sized (1 to 2-inch) chunks. Arrange bread in an even layer in the prepared baking dish.
- Make the custard. Whisk 8 large eggs, 3 cups half-and-half (or 1 1/2 cups whole milk and 1 1/2 cups heavy cream), 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the ground nutmeg together in a large bowl until smooth and combined.
- Pour custard over bread and refrigerate. Pour the custard evenly over the bread, then press the bread down slightly into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours. Or to bake right away, let sit for 1 hour at room temperature to give the bread time to absorb the custard.
- Mix the dry ingredients for the crumble topping. Toss 2 ounces chopped nuts (about 1/2 cup), 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, remaining 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt together in a large bowl.
- Add the butter to the crumble topping. Add the softened butter, and pinch and squeeze to incorporate the butter into the mixture until it forms moist, small clumps. Cover the crumble topping with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. When ready to bake, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven. Take the casserole out of the refrigerator, uncover, and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to take the chill off while the oven heats.
- Sprinkle crumble topping over casserole and bake. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the casserole. Bake until the casserole is puffed, golden brown, and set, 45 to 50 minutes.
- Cool the casserole. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving. Top with warm maple syrup or powdered sugar, and fresh berries.
- Make ahead: The casserole can be assembled and refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance.
- Storage: The casserole is best when served immediately after baking. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
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