Leftovers anyone? With the holidays upon us we find ourselves with an abundance of leftovers and extra ingredients. What to do? Make a casserole! This changes up the flavor and reduces waste of those leftovers. It is also a quick and easy method of preparing a meal.
Where did the term casserole come from? It is French for saucepan, though the concept of meats slow cooked with vegetables and fruits in a lidded clay pot dates to prehistory. Today a casserole dish can be made of glass, ceramic, or porcelain. Or you can use a 12” x 9” metal cake pan. If your casserole has no lid, just cover with aluminum foil before baking.
Making a Casserole
Look through ingredients you have on hand such as onions, carrots, garlic, chicken stock, canned tomatoes, mushrooms, pasta or rice, fresh and dried herbs. Using flour, milk, butter, and cheese, you can quickly whip up a white or cheese sauce to bind the casserole together.
Grease a large casserole dish (at least 2 quarts) and begin layering ingredients from the following categories. You can also create 2 smaller casseroles and freeze one (unbaked) for use later. Place a label on the covering of the casserole with the name of the dish and directions for baking after thawing. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and/or aluminum foil and use within 6 months.
Protein: (2 cups cooked)
- Ground beef
- Diced chicken, turkey, ham, beef, or pork
- Canned fish or seafood, flaked
- Chopped hard-cooked egg
- Canned beans (kidney, pinto, etc.), drained
Starch: (2 cups cooked)
- 10 oz. pkg. thaws and drained frozen spinach, broccoli, green beans, green peas
- 16 oz. can green beans, peas, carrots, corn, drained
- 2 cups sliced fresh zucchini
- Canned or fresh diced tomatoes
- Green Chile
Select one sauce to use for the casserole. You will need at least 2 cups of sauce.
- White sauce
- Quick White Sauce
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 ½ – 4 Tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk, or 1 cup milk and 1 cup stock
Melt butter over low heat. Add flour and stir 3 to 4 minutes until well blended. Slowly add milk or milk and stock. Simmer and stir the sauce with a wire whisk until it has thickened and is smooth and hot. For cheese sauce, add 1 – ½ cups grated cheese and stir till melted.
- Quick White Sauce
- 1 can sauce-type soup (mushroom, celery, cheese, tomato, etc.) mixed with milk to make 2 cups
- Tomato or marinara sauce
- Leftover gravy
- ½ cup chopped celery, ¼ cup chopped onion, ¼ cup sliced black olives
- 1 – 2 tsp. mixed dried leaf herbs (basil, thyme, marjoram, tarragon)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cover and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes to an hour, or microwave using 50% power for about 15 to 30 minutes, rotating or stirring as necessary. Heat until steaming hot (165 degrees Fahrenheit throughout.)
After heating if desired, place on top:
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup shredded Swiss, Cheddar, or Monterey Jack cheese
- Breadcrumbs sprinkled lightly across the top
- ¼ to ½ cup canned fried onion rings
Return casserole with topping (s) uncovered, to oven for about 10 minutes or to microwave for about 2 minutes. Be careful with salt. Canned stock, bouillon cubes or paste and condensed soups are already high in sodium (salt) so no need to add more salt.
With basic ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator plus a willingness to experiment, it is easy to pull together a simple, satisfying casserole meal. Have fun experimenting and make notes on your favorites!