When you hear the word casserole, do you automatically think "Tuna Surprise"? Casseroles have come into their own—new recipes allow you to explore a variety of tastes and textures, all while maintaining the appeal of a complete meal in one dish. Below are some basic rules of thumb and some recipes to get you started:
THE LEFTOVER FACTOR
Rather than turning towards a cookbook for a recipe, turn towards your refrigerator and become inspired. Because most casserole recipes are very forgiving, you can substitute almost any leftover cooked meat into recipes. Cooked turkey, canned salmon, cooked ham, diced kielbasa, and even luncheon meats can contribute to make a wonderful dish. Don't stop with leftover meats though. Leftover mashed potatoes, cooked rice, roasted potatoes, and cooked pasta make wonderful building blocks, and even a small bowl of leftover corn, peas, carrots or other vegetables goes wonderfully in most casseroles.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT
1. Grains: There are some wonderful new grains that are now available in our markets and kitchens: kasha, barley, bulgur, wheat germ, millet, wild rice and quinoa are some excellent examples for use in casseroles.
2. Fancier Pasta: Rather than your typical elbow pasta as a base, try tortellini, ravioli, couscous, gnocchi or fanciful shaped pasta.
3. Fruits and Vegetables: Explore fruits and vegetables in casseroles that you would normally not use, like squash, pumpkin, jicama, pears, leeks, apples, chestnuts, spaghetti squash, kale, parsnips, mangos, colored peppers and papayas.
4. Commercial Sauces and Soups: Don't limit yourself to that boring old can of cream of mushroom soup. Try all different types of soups and broth. Enhance the flavor of your casserole by cooking the base or the vegetables in broth or soup. Add other commercial or homemade staples such as applesauce, fruit butters, bottled sauce, or spice mixes to make very quick casseroles.
Casseroles can avoid their notorious reputation if you create visually appealing dishes with interesting toppings. Toppings could include something as basic as grated cheese, crumbled chips or bread crumbs or more sophisticated options, like nuts and prosciutto. Other toppings that pack a lot of flavor and are visually appealing include flavored cream cheese, smoked mozzarella, jalapeno monterey jack, spicy crackers, marinated vegetables, olives and vegetable curls.
GO FOR THE UNUSUAL
Serve your casserole in something other than a casserole dish: Halved pineapples, hollowed out pumpkins, squash, apples, peppers, bread loaves, unique dishes, custard cups, cabbage leaves, muffin tins, onions, tomatoes, and seafood shells are all wonderful serving ideas for your favorite casseroles.
WATCH THE LIQUID FACTOR
Don't cook your casseroles any longer than you have to. The longer you cook a casserole the more it tends to dry out. If you are looking for a meal that can be held until your family is ready to eat, casseroles are wonderful choices, but you must watch the dryness of the casserole and add more liquid accordingly.
ALWAYS MAKE MORE
Almost all casserole recipes are easily doubled. Use one for dinner tonight and another for your freezer. Tip: place the second casserole in an aluminum foil or plastic wrapped lined casserole and place in the freezer. Once the casserole is frozen, you can take the casserole out of the dish. This way you have a very easy to reheat casserole and all of your dishes are not stuck in the freezer.
Here are some great casserole recipes; they're wondering served with a fresh salad on the side.