casseroles

Casserole is a French word for “pot” or “pan” and it refers not only to mixed-ingredient, one-dish meals, but also the vessel they are cooked in; a casserole is a type of cooking pan. The idea of casseroles dates back as far as the thirteenth century, but it wasn’t until the 1900s that they started to gain widespread popularity. The scarcity of food (and rationing) during the World Wars, the invention of canned foods (especially soup), and the changing role of women in society as they joined the workforce all contributed to the success of these convenient and economical one-dish meals. By the middle of the twentieth century, the casserole craze was in full swing.

Casseroles are still popular today for many of the same reasons; most are easy to make, cost very little to put together and can be made ahead and stored away for busy nights. A make-ahead casserole is perfect for just about any occasion. You can welcome new neighbors, have a dish ready for an upcoming party or plan next week’s meals.

Make-Ahead and Freezing Guidelines

• To bake a casserole ahead of time, cool completely, and then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

• To freeze a casserole, you can either assemble and freeze or bake and freeze, depending on the recipe. Either way, cool completely and cover tightly with plastic wrap, and then with heavy duty foil. Add a label with the name of the recipe and the date. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

• Whether refrigerated or frozen, bring a casserole to room temperature 30 minutes to 1 hour (but no longer) before baking or reheating. You may need to add extra baking time when a dish has been refrigerated.

• Reheat casseroles in a moderate (around 350 degrees F) oven, covered, so that they do not dry out. If a casserole seems to be dry, you can stir in a little more of the liquid that was called for in the recipe. Reheating in a microwave will warm the food but will also soften crispy toppings.

casseroles1

Rolled Lasagna Florentine

Ingredients

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 15 ounce carton ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces package (2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 12 dried lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 3 cups Tomato Meat Sauce, recipe below
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

Directions

For the spinach-cheese filling:

In a medium bowl combine egg, ricotta cheese, salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and the spinach. Spread mixture over each cooked lasagna noodle. Starting from a narrow end, roll up each noodle.

For the sauce:

In a medium bowl combine Tomato Sauce, Ground Beef or Turkey filling, Italian seasoning and fennel seeds.

Spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Arrange lasagna rolls on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Top with the remaining  2 cups of sauce and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Save any remaining sauce for another meal.

Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap. Place casserole in a resealable freezer bag. Seal and freeze for up to 2 months.

To serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove plastic wrap; cover with greased or nonstick foil. Bake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until heated through.

Ground Beef or Turkey Filling

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds ground beef or turkey
  • 1 ½ cups chopped onions (3 medium)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery (1 stalk)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper

Directions

In a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven cook ground beef, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic over medium heat until meat is browned, using a wooden spoon to break up meat as it cooks. Drain off fat. Stir in salt and pepper.

Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Directions

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes or until garlic is lightly golden. Carefully add tomatoes, wine, tomato paste and salt.

Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 for 40 minutes or until slightly thickened and reduced by about one-third, stirring occasionally. (You should have about 5 1/2 cups.)

casseroles2

Sausage, Mushroom and Polenta Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Italian (hot or sweet) sausage, casing removed
  • 1 medium fresh chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced, divided
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (6)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, crushed, divided
  • 1 ½ cups polenta
  • 2 cups shredded fontina or mozzarella or provolone  cheese (8 ounces)

Directions

In a large skillet cook sausage, chili pepper and 2 cloves garlic over medium-high heat until the sausage is brown, using a wooden spoon to break up meat as it cooks. Drain off fat. Stir in marinara sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour into a large mixing bowl and cover.

In the same skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms, green onions, remaining 2 cloves garlic and 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning. Cook about 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and liquid is evaporated, stirring occasionally. Stir in heavy cream, wine and salt. Cook over low heat about 10 minutes or until mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally.

For polenta, in a large saucepan bring chicken broth, the water and remaining Italian seasoning to a boil. Slowly add polenta, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until mixture returns to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, grease a 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Spread half of the sausage mixture in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.

Working quickly, spread half of the polenta over the sausage mixture in the baking dish. Top with mushroom mixture and half of the cheese. Quickly spread the remaining polenta over the top as evenly as possible. Top with the remaining sausage mixture and the remaining cheese. Cool completely.

Cover baking dish with plastic wrap, then with foil. Freeze for up to 1 month.

To serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight (casserole may still be a bit icy). Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove plastic wrap; cover with foil. Bake about 1 1/2 hours or until heated through. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

casseroles3

Zucchini Rice Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked long grain rice
  • 3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch slices
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups (16 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) light sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced

Directions

Cook rice according to package directions.

In a large skillet, heat oil and cook the green pepper, onion and zucchini for 3-5 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Set aside.

Place rice in a greased shallow 3-qt. baking dish. Add 1-1/2 cups cheese.

In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, parsley, salt and oregano.

Spread over the cheese layer.

Add the sautéed vegetables and tomato. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

If not cooking immediately, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the refrigerator thirty minutes before heating.

Bake, covered, at 350°F for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 5-10 minutes longer or until heated through and the cheese is melted.

casseroles4

Tuscan Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 3 cups shredded kale (thick stems removed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 2 19 ounce cans cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
  • One 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto or cooked ham, cut into bite-size strips
  • 1/4 cup fine dry Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crushed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a saucepan cook kale in a small amount of boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes until tender. Drain well in a colander.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the empty pan over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until tender.

In a large bowl combine cooked kale, onion mixture, beans, tomatoes, prosciutto, 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs, the sage, garlic, and pepper. Transfer mixture to an ungreased 2-quart casserole.

In a small bowl combine the remaining 2 tablespoons bread crumbs and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle over the bean mixture.

Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Bake, uncovered, about 10 minutes more or until heated through.

casseroles5

Bulgur, Beef Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 8 large red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers, with stems if possible
  • 2 cans (14 to 14 1/2-ounce) chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups bulgur
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed with press
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 package (10-ounce) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 cans (28-ounce) crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4  teaspoon salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Directions

Cut 3/4-inch slice from the top of each pepper; reserve tops, including stems.

Remove seeds and ribs and cut a thin slice from bottom of each pepper, if needed, so they will stand upright.

Arrange 4 peppers and their tops (separately) on the same microwave-safe plate. Cook, uncovered, in the microwave on High 4 minutes. With tongs, transfer tops to a paper towel. Microwave peppers 4 to 5 minutes longer or until just tender. Invert peppers onto a double thickness of paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining peppers and tops.

In a microwave-safe large bowl, combine chicken broth and bulgur. Cook, uncovered, in the microwave on High 12 to 15 minutes or until bulgur is tender, but still slightly chewy, and most of broth is absorbed. You can also do this on top of the stove. Bring the broth to a boil and stir in the bulgur. Reduce the heat and cook the bulgur until tender, about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a deep 12-inch skillet, heat oil on medium until hot. Add onion and garlic, and cook 5 minutes or until onion begins to turn golden, stirring frequently. Remove 1/4 cup onion mixture and reserve. Add beef to the remaining onion in the skillet and cook 6 to 8 minutes or until beef is no longer pink, breaking up beef with the side of a wooden spoon.

Remove skillet from the heat and stir in cooked bulgur, spinach, Italian seasoning, 1 cup crushed tomatoes and 3/4 cup mozzarella. Fill peppers with bulgur mixture, using a generous 1 cup for each; sprinkle each pepper with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Replace pepper tops.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wipe skillet clean and combine remaining crushed tomatoes, reserved onion mixture, salt and coarsely ground black pepper in the skillet; heat to boiling on medium-high, stirring occasionally.

Divide tomato sauce evenly between two 2-quart casseroles or 8″ by 8″ glass baking dishes. Place 4 peppers in each dish.

Cover one dish with foil and bake 35 minutes or until peppers are hot. Cover the second dish and freeze for another day.

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