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Six Easy Casseroles

1 / 5
Egg and Cheddar Cheese Puff with Greens and Roasted Red Pepper, and Quick and Tasty Tortilla Pie
2 / 5
Not-Exactly-a-Recipe for Quick and Tasty Tortilla Pie.
3 / 5
Cabbage, Potato and Mushroom Gratin
4 / 5
Assembling a delicious Vegetable Pie.
5 / 5
Savory Spanakopita

“I don’t hesitate for a second to insist that nothing typifies American cooking more than the sumptuous, highly varied casseroles that have been baked in ovens all over the country for the past century.”
– James Villas

We all grew up eating casseroles – the epitome of American cooking and comfort food. Each of us has memories of our family’s specialties, be they our hallowed macaroni and cheese, the proverbial tuna noodle casserole, or the often overcooked green bean casserole doused with canned soup.

Experts believe that the casserole originated in France in the early 1600s; the French word casse describes a crock or a deep round pot used for slow cooking. Wherever and whenever, the casserole is a brilliant way to use leftovers or whatever is in season. Convenient and practical, the one-dish entree simplifies the cook’s time in the kitchen. Each country around the globe has its own version of casseroles from gratins, jambalaya, moussaka, paella, pies, polenta, puddings, and layered dishes such as lasagna or tortillas. Some of these are baked in the oven while others are cooked on the stovetop. Whether they are traditional, classic recipes or new updated versions, they are mixtures of complementary foods combined into one dish to make a tasty meal.

One-dish meals can be casual or elegant; they can be prepared in advance and allow flexibility for the cook and entertaining. They are also the perfect potluck food. Below are a few main dish entrees that vary from quick and easy to a bit more labor intensive – but oh,so worth it. (Sometimes, I double the recipe and make two, so I can put one in the freezer.) Once you have assembled the casserole and placed it in the oven, you can use the time to make a salad as an accompaniment, then put a loaf of bread in the oven to warm during the last 10 minutes of baking, and, of course, relax with your favorite before-dinner beverage.

Not a Quick Recipe but a Tasty Tortilla Pie

Exact proportions don’t really matter in this recipe. I have never made this the same way twice, yet it is always well received. Even if they are on the run or otherwise occupied, my teenage girls usually make it to the table when this pie is served. We love black beans, though pintos are equally tasty in this dish. I can put this together in about 10 minutes, and it takes 25 to 30 minutes to bake. If there are leftovers, whoever gets up first generally has it for breakfast.

  • About 8 whole-wheat tortillas (8- to 9-inch size), warmed
  • About 3 cups cooked or canned black or pinto beans, whole or refried, cooked with some garlic or add a few pressed or minced
  • cloves, along with other seasonings; heated
  • About 1 cup chopped onion or green onions
  • 2 to 3 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • About 2 cups enchilada sauce or hot salsa
  • About 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed and dried

Have all your ingredients ready. If you have cooked your beans from dried, you probably have seasoned them with garlic, chiles and cumin, perhaps oregano or epazote; if they are canned, put them in a strainer, rinse and drain; transfer the beans to a pan and heat with some of the aforementioned seasonings. Refried beans work well since they spread easily and don’t fall off the layers; if using whole beans, mash about half of them (a potato masher works well for this) and leave some whole for texture. Chop onions and grate cheese. If using enchilada sauce, heat it; salsa should not be cold but at room temperature. If the salsa is particularly soupy, strain some of the excess moisture off before using.
Heat oven to 375ºF. Oil pie plate or round casserole.
Begin by placing spoonful of sauce/salsa in bottom of plate and place tortilla on top. Spread tortilla with about 3/4 cup beans and sprinkle lightly with cheese. Place another tortilla on top and spoon some sauce/salsa (about 1/2 cup or so) to cover and sprinkle with cheese, scattering a few onions and cilantro leaves overall. Add another tortilla and alternate with bean and sauce/salsa layers until you have used up all your ingredients. (Sometimes you have more beans or more sauce/salsa – the next to the last layer can be a repeat or just use up what is left. You may not use all the tortillas.) Save some sauce/salsa and cheese for top layer.
Bake 25-30 minutes, until bubbling and heated throughout and golden brown on top. Remove from oven and garnish with chopped onion and cilantro leaves. Cut into 8 wedges and serve hot. Yields 4-6 servings.


Herbed Brown Rice Casserole

The original recipe for this dish was published in Gourmet Magazine in 1980 and then in Cooking with Herbs, which I co-authored with Carolyn Dille in 1981. It is an easy, tasty dish that has withstood time and food trends. Measurements need not be precise – sometimes I add cheddar instead of Parmesan or an extra egg. If I have leftover broccoli or other veggies, I might add them. Vary the herbs; use tomato juice instead of stock. Experiment! This is one of my favorite leftovers.

  • 4 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 -1/4 cups soft whole grain bread crumbs, divided
  • 1 cup coarse-chopped parsley
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1- 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • About 1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
  • About 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, crumbled
  • About 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or thyme or 1 teaspoon dried sage or thyme leaves, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 350°F. Oil 1 -1/2-quart casserole; set aside.
In large bowl, combine brown rice, 1 cup bread crumbs, parsley, eggs and nuts.
Soften onion in olive oil over medium low heat for about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook 2 minutes longer. Mix vegetables into rice. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and garlic.
Toss mixture with stock or water, herbs and cayenne pepper. Mixture should be moist but not soppy. Season with salt and pepper and turn mixture into prepared casserole.
Mix remaining bread crumbs and cheese and spread over casserole. Bake 35-40 minutes, until casserole turns rich golden brown. Yields 4 main-course servings or 8 side-dish servings.


Egg and Cheddar Cheese Puff with Greens and Roasted Red Pepper Recipe

This colorful casserole with its red bell pepper and garden greens is as appealing to the eye as it is good for you, and it is easily assembled ahead of time. It can be refrigerated until guests arrive, and then it can be baked in about 30 to 35 minutes, while they mingle.
You can try a combination of cheeses if you like. Use whatever fresh greens you have in your garden or looks best at the market: chard, kale, spinach, beet, dandelion, or a combination thereof. Actually, depending on what is in season, I use the basic egg, bread and cheese puff mixture and vary the vegetables. Substitute asparagus and mushrooms in place of the greens and pepper, or try sautéed zucchini and chiles with cilantro.

  • 6 large slices whole-wheat bread, toasted and rubbed with garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded, cut lengthwise into strips and halved crosswise
  • 1 or 2 bunches of fresh greens, stemmed, washed and dried; stack and cut leaves crosswise (there should be about 2 cups densely packed shredded
  • greens; roll in a kitchen towel of paper towel and squeeze out any excess moisture)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 extra-large eggs
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon Hungarian-style paprika
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese, divided

Heat oven to 350ºF. Butter 9-by-13-inch casserole dish; set aside.
Cut toasted garlic bread into large bite-sized cubes and place in large bowl.
In large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat; add onion and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add bell pepper strips and greens, stir well and cover for a few minutes. Remove cover, add garlic, salt and pepper; stir and cover for 1-2 minutes until greens are wilted. Remove from heat. Drain excess moisture if necessary.
In large bowl, break eggs and whisk. Generously season with salt and pepper, add milk, thyme, paprika and cayenne and whisk to blend.
Toss sautéed veggies into bowl with bread cubes and mix well. Transfer to baking dish. Spread about 2/3 of cheese over bread mixture. Pour milk and eggs overall and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
At this point you can refrigerate dish for a few hours, or leave at cool room temperature for 30-60 minutes. If refrigerated, remove from refrigerator ½ hour before baking. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown and eggs are set. Serve hot. Yields 6 to 8 servings.


Cabbage, Potato and Mushroom Gratin Recipe

This is a simple, yet hardy and satisfying dish. Sometimes, I use another potato, sometimes no potato at all – just cabbage and mushrooms. Domestic mushrooms are good here; however, I often use shiitake because they are my favorite and occasionally some dried porcini for a deep intense mushroom flavor.

  • 2 large potatoes, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 small green cabbage, about 1 pound
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups half and half cream or milk, at room temperature, divided
  • 1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced thyme or marjoram leaves
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 to 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans, divided
  • 1 cup soft whole grain bread crumbs

In large steamer, with water in bottom, place potato slices and steam for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, wash cabbage and slice into thin wedges. Add to steamer and cook both until just tender, 5-7 minutes. Spread half the cabbage in lightly oiled 2- to 3-quart gratin or soufflé dish, season with salt and pepper. Layer half the potatoes over cabbage and season with salt and pepper.
Over moderately low heat, soften mushrooms and onion in butter. Add garlic; cook for about 3 minutes, and then increase heat to medium. Add flour all at once, stirring constantly. When flour and butter begin to bubble, stir in 1 cup half-and-half or milk. Combine well and stir in remaining half-and-half and soy sauce or Aminos.
Heat oven to 350ºF.
Add parsley, thyme, cayenne and nutmeg. Gradually stir in Parmesan cheese. Cook sauce over low heat for 5 minutes; add half the chopped nuts. Pour half the sauce over cabbage and potatoes, then layer remaining cabbage and potatoes on top and season with salt and pepper. Cover with remaining sauce. Sprinkle remaining nuts and then bread crumbs and bake 25-30 minutes, until crumbs are lightly browned. Serve hot. Yields 6 to 8 servings.


Vegetable Pie Recipe

The crust for this pie is very easy to work with; I’ve added some whole-wheat flour to improve its nutrition, but you can use all unbleached white flour, if desired. Use whatever vegetables that are in season, or leftovers that you have on hand. You need about 6 cups of cooked vegetables per pie. I usually make two pies at a time and freeze one. Bake it like a potpie, right out of the freezer; do not allow it to thaw first.

Dough:

  • 1 -1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening or soybean margarine
  • About 6 tablespoons ice water, divided

Filling:

  • 1 pound winter squash (such as Delicata, acorn, butternut, or Sweetie Dumpling), peeled, seeded and diced, or sweet potatoes
  • About 1/2 pound potatoes, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 1 small head broccoli, diced; about 6 to 8 ounces
  • 1 large stalk celery, sliced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 -1/2 cups coarsely shredded cabbage
  • 1 medium onion, diced (about 1- 1/4 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons miso or vegetable stock base, optional
  • Scant teaspoon thyme or marjoram leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

For dough, put flours and salt in food processor and pulse to mix. Add butter and shortening to processor and pulse until mixture is a coarse meal. If mixing by hand, toss flour and salt in bowl. Then cut butter and shortening into flour with pastry blender until mixture is a coarse meal.
Add 4 tablespoons water and pulse or mix with fork. Add remaining water while processor is running and mix just until dough starts to gather into a ball, or mix dough by hand in bowl just until it comes together.
Turn dough onto work surface and gather into ball, using ball to gather up any loose bits of dough. Pinch large walnut-size piece of dough from ball. Using heel of hand, push dough away, flattening it across work surface. Repeat process with remaining dough. When all the dough has been spread, gather it together and repeat process.
Divide dough into two parts and flatten into disks about 1-inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The dough also can be prepared ahead of time and kept refrigerated.
While dough is chilling, prepare filling. Place squash, potatoes and carrots in steamer, bring to boil and steam 8-10 minutes. Add broccoli, celery and pepper and steam 4-5 minutes more. Add cabbage and remove from heat.
Sauté onions in butter 3-4 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add flour and stir 3-5 minutes. Add milk, all at once, and stir as it thickens. Soften miso in a little hot milk or boiling water and add to sauce. Cook until barely simmering and thickening. Add thyme, Parmesan, salt and pepper and cook 3-5minutes. Taste for seasoning.
Heat oven to 400°F. If dough is very cold, let stand for about 10 minutes before rolling out. Roll one portion of dough on lightly floured board or pastry cloth to about 1/8-inch thick. Place dough in 10-inch pie plate. Roll other portion of dough to 1/8-inch thickness.
Be sure vegetables are well drained. Fill pie shell with half the vegetables, season with salt and pepper, and spoon half the sauce over all. Repeat with remaining vegetables and sauce. Cover with remaining portion of dough, and trim and fold edges under. Crimp or press edge of crust into decorative pattern. Prick top crust a few times with fork.
Bake 10 minutes; reduce heat to 375°F and bake for 30 minutes more. Let pie stand 5-10 minutes before cutting. Serve hot. Yields one 10-inch pie.


Savory Spanakopita Recipe

This version of spanakopita is packed full of flavor – it is delicious, as well as being good for you. Whole-wheat phyllo or filo can be found in the freezer section of your health food store. If you haven’t worked with filo, it isn’t hard; you just sort of get the technique as you go along, and it doesn’t have to be perfect since it will be covered up. Instead of just spinach, I favor a mix of greens for superior taste – use a combination of two or three. Just remove any big stems from the leaves, chop them fine and sauté them with the onions or reserve them for another use. Greek oregano is very pungent and works well in this dish. I also add a few eggs to bind the filling, which gives it a bit of a quiche-like richness. Rather than use butter on the filo, I prefer to work with olive oil and like the flavor better.

  • 2 pounds of fresh greens: spinach, chard, kale, dandelion, beet or mustard greens
  • 1 medium onion, diced fine
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Greek oregano leaves, minced, or 2 teaspoons dried crumbled Greek oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • About 10 ounces feta cheese
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 box filo, thawed
  • About 2/3 cup olive oil

Heat oven to 375°F. Brush olive oil over 9-by-13-inch baking dish; set aside.
Wash and dry greens, remove large stems and drain well. Rough chop greens and set aside.
In large sauté pan, sauté onion in olive oil over moderate heat, for about 5 minutes. Add greens a few handfuls at a time and stir, cover and cook until greens are wilted, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes. When greens are wilted, add garlic and oregano, season generously with salt and pepper, stir, cover and remove from heat.
In bowl, beat eggs. Crumble feta into eggs and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Remove lid from greens so they cool a bit.
Unwrap filo, unfold it and keep it covered with a slightly damp towel. Working carefully with one filo sheet at a time, fold each sheet in half and brush top of each sheet lightly with olive oil. I find it easier to place the filo in the pan and then brush it with the oil rather than brushing it and trying to move it. Place first sheet in bottom of prepared baking dish. Repeat with filo, using about 5 or 6 more sheets, arranging filo so it covers bottom of pan and overlaps sides by 2 or 3 inches. It will take 4 sheets to cover bottom partially and overlap all 4 sides. Add another layer or two to cover bottom.
Toss greens with egg and cheese mixture. Spread mixture evenly into filo-lined pan. Repeat brushing about 3 or 4 folded sheets of filo and place on top. Fold overlapping sides of filo over top to make finished package. Brush lightly with oil.
Cut into triangles or diamond shapes before baking. (If you wait to cut spanakopita until after it is baked, it will be difficult and the filo will flake into many pieces and look messy). Bake 35-40 minutes or until spanakopita is golden brown; let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Yields 6-12 servings.

Susan Belsinger keeps a full fridge and a well-stocked spice cabinet at her home in Brookeville, Maryland.

Published on Aug 7, 2008

Grit Magazine

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