Not your Mother's Casserole
Sorry mom. I didn't name the book;)
Actually, this is not a slap against the casseroles typical of my childhood table. I actually have fond, warm-fuzzy remembrances of broccoli cheddar casserole (with brussel sprouts), and Tex-Mex surprise. Did your mom make you a pasta chicken bake and what about tuna casserole? Ring any bells? The other day, at the store I saw a 'Mexican Layered Dip' for sale. You cannot tell me you didn't love a mouthful of re-fried beans, taco meat, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, olives and cheddar. I bet you just made a mental note to add the aforementioned ingredients to your grocery list.
My husband visibly cringes when you say the word. I am thinking for him it means: leftovers tossed in a pot with canned soup? Baked until it melts together? Microwaved into oblivion? I know his mom is a great cook---so will have to dig into the reason behind his visible casseroled' cringe.
Though lets be honest: casseroles can be downright sublime if done well... and downright nasty if not. The infamous one-pot meal, the make-ahead 9x13, the dish in the freezer that pops directly into your oven. Of COURSE it's popular. Of course it is a concept that keeps making itself known, poking into the mainstream - the impetus to 'redefine' and 'reinvent.'
This book nails that trend: re-inventing casseroles from our youth, pursuing the always-welcome notion of a quick-to-assemble, one-pot dinner. No time, she thinks. But I can get all those vegetables, cheese and protein into a casserole in a flash...
And so the cycle continues. So when Harvard Common Press offered to send me the book: Not Your Mother's Casseroles, I was intrigued. Then, I opened a newsletter from Delish and noted a highlighted section under Favorite Recipes: Casseroles. There is no hiding from this notion: it is time to delve in.
And let me say this: when it comes to my table, feeding my family and going down the casserole path---I aim to be a bit snobby. I am not a fan of condensed, canned soup. I make bechamel from scratch. I am a trained chef, a farmer market lover and prefer balance across flavors and textures. I am also a mom---sometimes short on time. Which means: fast is good, in the context of high-quality ingredients. I am not opposed to short-cuts, but I am an unwavering fan of making each bite count. Who ever said 'fast food' had to be bad food? Fast doesn't mean you forget nutrition, flavor or cut tasteful corners. It just means: you take great ingredients and make a meal quickly. Wanna be quick? Boil some water, make some pasta, take 3 minutes to saute some shrimp and garlic, give a good squeeze of lemon juice... Shall I keep talking?
I love good food, I also love 'kitchen smarts.' I like having time-cutting corners up my sleeve. Well let's take casseroles as an example:
This Italian 'casserole' is my family's absolute favorite casserole in the world. I make it all the time. It is essentially layered polenta, Italian sausage, tomato sauce and mozzarella. When I have time, the flavor and reward will be greatest when I: 1. make polenta from scratch (with homemade chicken stock and cream), use homemade tomato sauce and high quality Italian sausage, and layer on fresh mozzarella. BUT, in a pinch and in the theme of casseroles are easy, quick meals: polenta pre-made from a tube (organic!) mixed with dried Italian herbs and pre-grated Parmesan, tomato sauce I already made---waiting in my freezer---and pre-shredded mozzarella... means my 'casserole' takes just minutes to put together.
What casseroles do you make? Want to try something new? Here are some ideas:
- Casseroles often fall under my 'default dinners' category.
- From Talk of Tomatoes: chicken enchiladas
- From Delish: 31 days of casseroles
- Tuna Casserole from Simply Recipes
- The Ktchn ran a contest for healthy casseroles; the winner Cauliflower & Chicken Sausage Casserole
- Mexican Rice Casserole from For the Love of Cooking.