I’ve touched on casseroles a number of times in this space when focusing on other, associated issues. But sister Erin says it’s time to focus on them in their own right. They’re one-dish meals and sides that brighten up everyone’s dinner time experience!
Go figure… Most Mediterranean, West European and North American cuisines include a major selection of Casseroles. They might be shallow- or deep-dish creations, Veggie or Protein-based, decadent or downright healthy (by design). But they do occupy a special place in our dining traditions. They’re warm, hearty, filling and comforting. I don’t know anyone who would turn one down!
Stews versus Casseroles: Kissing Cousins…
You may note that some old the dishes I’m going to list are considered Stews by some folks, in some parts of the world. The common definition of a Stew is something cooked on the stove top with lots of liquid, often without a lid, while a Casserole is generally held to be a one-pot Dish cooked in the oven with a cover… So there. That being said, Casserole recipes can easily be adapted to a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot, if that’s the way you want to go…
Note: Casseroles are usually topped with Crumbs, Crushed Crispy Chips, or a layer of Shredded Cheese that melts gloriously over the filing. Stews, on the other hand, are often topped with Dumplings, or a pastry crust (like Chicken Pot Pie).
Bring on the Leftovers!
Casseroles are a great way to dress up (or conceal) leftovers in the days following a major Roast dinner. You can go any number of ways with different flavours and additional ingredients. Leftover firm Veggies (Potatoes, Carrots, other Root Veggies) can also be repurposed in any Stew or Casserole that calls for them. Just remember, they’re pre-cooked, so add them later in the process, leaving just enough cooking time for them to heat up properly.
Lasagna: That layered casserole with Cheese, Meat and broad, crinkly-edged Noodles that we all associate with Italy. There are as many recipes as there are cooks who make it. It even goes over big when made ‘Veggie’.
Manicotti: Little Pasta rolls stuffed with Meat, Cheese and Spinach. Then covered in Red Sauce and Cheese, and baked.
Paella: Spanish Rice featuring Paprika and a selection of Meats, often including Seafood and Fish, Chicken or Goat. It’s traditionally started with the top off and finishes simmering over an open fire with a lid on. Lid on? It’s a casserole to me.
Pilaf: A close French cousin of Paella usually using a greater variety of herbs and aromatics. It’s usually used as a side with Chicken or Fish, but can be dosed with small pieces of Meat to make a main.
Boeuf Bourguignon: Beef and Veggies in Red Wine. Very rich and very classy to serve company, but easy to make in a Dutch Oven, a Slow Cooker or an Instant Pot.
Coq au Vin: Chicken and Veggies in Wine. Similar technique to Boeuf Bourguignon, but with Poultry. Same recommendations!
Tagine: The traditional casserole technique of Northern Africa, most closely associated with Morocco and Algeria. Meat, Dried Fruits and Veggies, cooked in a covered Tagine pot – like a small chimneyed clay oven that sits atop a fire an open fire (or on your stove top, or in your oven) and cooks in the same manner as a Dutch Oven.
The UK and Ireland…
Shepherd’s Pie: Beef or Lamb chunks in a thick Gravy with Potatoes and Green Peas, topped with Mashed Potatoes and baked until the Potatoes turn golden brown and the mixture is bubbling.
Pot Roast: This one’s a good candidate for the Instant Pot or Slow Cooker, but some cooks maintain it’s just not the same unless you simmer it low and slow in the a Dutch Oven. Big chunks of Potato, Carrot, Celery and Onion and a rich savoury jus that begs to be made into a Red Wine Reduction, if not Gravy.
Irish Stew: Everybody knows Irish Stew. It may be the most famous dish that’s traditionally cooked in a Dutch Oven.
Sausage and Leek: A welsh specialty which will have them coming back for seconds and thirds.
Tuna and Noodles: Egg Noodles, Canned Tuna and Cheese Sauce, topped with A Crumb Crust. Simple, classic and scrumptious.
Mac & Cheese: The classic mix of Mac/Pasta of your choice and Cheesy Sauce. Add any kind of Protein to make it a main. Add Green Peas, Broccoli Florets, Asparagis Yips or other semi-firm Veggies to make it a main.
Scalloped Potatoes: We’ve all made this one at one time or other. It’s a popular side, especially for Feast Day Dinners. Add cubed leftover Ham or Chicken or Turkey to make it a main.
Green Bean: A signature American casserole usually made with Green Beans, A can or two of Cream of Mushroom Soup, and topped with Crispy Onions. Again, add Chunks of Ham to make a great main!
Savoury Stuffing: Now a days, I always make the Stuffing outside the Bird when doing a Turkey feast. I, for one, can sit down to a scoop of Leftover Stuffing and a small simple Salad and call it lunch. And there are many thi8ngs you an do to repurpose leftover stuffing. I sometimes make a casserole of it between Feasts to have some on hand!
Tortilla Casserole: Shredded Chicken and Peppers in a thick, creamy Cheese Sauce. Layered with Corn Tortillas and topped with lots of Shredded Cheddar or Jack Cheese. Baked until bubbly.
Sunday Breakfast Bake: Many many recipes exist for this holiday brunch favourite, but they all incorporate Stale Bread Cubes, Cubed Ham and Large-diced Peppers covered with a mixture of Eggs and Milk. Like a savoury Bread Pudding, but a meal in itself. Much easier than it looks to your guests!
And that’s just the tip of the Casserole iceberg…
There are literally tens of thousands of different casserole recipes out there. A check of Google just now returned 123,000,000 hits. So don’t worry about running out of ideas!
~ Maggie J.