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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 12:01 am

Comfort in a pan

 Casseroles mean comfort. Referring to both the type of recipe and the vessel it is cooked in, casseroles can do double duty as a side dish or main course when paired with a simple green salad. Most freeze well, and I usually prepare a pan to enjoy now and a pan to stow away in the freezer for a busy weeknight.

Most casseroles consist of three components: a carbohydrate, a sauce or liquid and a cheesy or crusty top layer. They allow you a way to easily sneak in extra servings of vegetables and stretch a protein to feed a large number of people.

Canned vegetables and condensed soup defined the casseroles of the mid 20th century, when economy and speed were valued over flavor. These recipes skip canned soup and instead utilize a quick tomato sauce or a simple béchamel, and are completely customizable.

Italian Style Baked Beans
Quick enough for a weeknight, this makes a hearty meal when paired with crusty whole grain bread and a simple salad.

Serves 4

• 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes in juice
• 2 15 oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed  
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2/3 cup grated Parmesan, divided
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary or thyme
• 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided  
• salt and black pepper to taste
• ½ cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a two-quart baking dish with cooking spray.  

Add the tomatoes to a mixing bowl and crush them with the back of a spoon. Add the beans, garlic, 1/3 cup of the Parmesan, chopped herbs and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the greased baking dish and wipe out the mixing bowl. Add the panko, 1/3 cup Parmesan and remaining tablespoon olive oil. Mix well and spread the over the top of the bean mixture.

Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.

Roasted zucchini lightens up this aromatic Greek classic.  

• 1 medium eggplant cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick rounds
• 2 small zucchini cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick rounds
• ¼ cup olive oil  
• 1 lb. ground lamb or beef
• 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
• 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1⁄4 tsp. each ground ginger and allspice
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 medium yellow onions, minced
• 1 red bell pepper, chopped
• 1 cup red wine
• ¼ cup dried currants or chopped golden raisins
• 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
• 6 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 1⁄2 cup flour
• 2 1⁄4 cups milk
• 1 bay leaf
• Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
• 1⁄2 cup plain Greek yogurt
• 3 egg yolks
• 1 cup grated Parmesan
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the sliced eggplant and zucchini with the olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven until lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees.

While the vegetables are in the oven, heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the meat and brown well, breaking it into smallish pieces. Drain the excess fat, then add red pepper flakes and spices to the meat and sauté 1 minute to toast the spices. Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and sauté until slightly softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the red wine, scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet and cook until the wine has almost evaporated away. Add the tomatoes with their juices and the currants. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 30 minutes.

While the meat mixture is cooking, make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir to make a paste.  Add the milk in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and whisk until smooth and thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and yogurt. Whisk in ½ cup of the hot béchamel sauce into the egg yolk mixture to temper it, then whisk that into the béchamel.

Spray a 3-quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Layer the roasted zucchini and eggplant in the dish, then top with the meat mixture, then the béchamel. Sprinkle the Parmesan generously over top, then bake in a 375-degree oven until brown and bubbly, about 45-60 minutes. Let rest 30 minutes before serving.

Salmon Noodle Casserole
Canned sockeye salmon and whole wheat pasta make for a meal that is both healthful and hearty.  

• 12 ounces whole wheat pasta, such as shells or rotini
• 3 tablespoons butter
• 1 onion, minced
• 2 carrots, chopped
• 2 stalks celery, chopped
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 1/2 teaspoon each dry mustard and dried thyme
• pinch cayenne
• 3 cups milk
• 1 14.5-ounce can wild Alaskan red sockeye salmon
• 1 cup frozen peas
• 1 cup crushed crackers
• 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta for two minutes less than package directions call for, and drain. In saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add vegetables, season with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about three minutes. Add flour and whisk to coat, then slowly whisk in milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce is thickened, about 8 minutes. Stir in pasta, salmon and peas and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer mixture to a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Mix crackers with 1 tablespoon melted butter, then spread over top of salmon mixture. Bake until sauce is bubbling and crust is golden, 45-50 minutes. Let rest 20 minutes before serving.

Contact Ashley Meyer at ashley@realcuisine.net


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