When I read a recipe for a casserole in cool food blogs or hip food magazines, the dish is often referred to as “a throwback” or “retro.” This makes me irate. Delicious and comforting are the culinary equivalent of timeless chic and no one can tell me otherwise. Sure, if you grew up with these in the midcentury Midwest, they may have been cream soup explosions or can-opening extravaganzas. But if you learn to make from-scratch cream soup substitutes or opt for fresh vegetables instead of their canned counterparts, you can add skills to your culinary toolbox while turning out some real treats. Also, casseroles usually yield leftovers, so future you will thank present you.
My method differs from the one in the linked recipe above, in that I add the rice before the liquid. When I make rice outside of a rice cooker, I always use the pilaf technique to keep it from cooking into a burnt disaster on the bottom. If you’re better at cooking rice than I am (and most people are), feel free to follow the instructions linked above.
2 14.5 oz/400g cans whole stewed tomatoes
2 links Andouille sausage, sliced (Kielbasa works, too!)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 sticks celery, chopped
1-2 jalapeños or other hot green chilies, chopped (leave the seeds and membranes for extra heat)
1 small (about 2 T) can tomato paste
3 T Cajun seasoning
2 c/500 g rice
1 1/2 c/180 mL chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 T Tabasco or your pepper sauce of choice (I’m a Cholula fan)
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
Large mesh strainer
Large bowl with minimum 4-cup capacity
Lidded Dutch oven or other stove-to-oven pot
Using a mesh strainer set over a bowl, drain the canned tomatoes. Crush them with your hands to break them up and squish out all of the juices inside (careful, they’ll squirt!). Set aside crushed tomatoes and add chicken broth to the juices to bring the total amount of liquid to 3 cups.
Preheat your oven to 325° F/160° C and heat a lidded, oven-safe Dutch oven to medium high on the stove top. Brown your sausage slices well in the Dutch oven and remove to bowl. If your sausage lets off a lot of grease, drain all but 1 1/2 tablespoons (If your sausage doesn’t let off much grease and your pot looks dry, use olive oil). Turn heat to medium and add your onion, garlic, bell pepper, celery and chilies and cook, stirring frequently, until very tender, about 10 minutes.
Add tomato paste and crushed tomato and cook, stirring frequently, until wetness cooks off and tomatoes just start to smell caramelized. Add spices, stir to distribute and cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. If bottom of pot looks dry, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. It will almost certainly start to show a browned, cooked on layer; this is fine and it will come up when you add the liquid. Next add rice and stir until well distributed and coated with oil. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until rice grains begin to appear translucent on ends. Add chicken broth and tomato juices and stir well, scraping the browned crust from the bottom of the pot. Add cooked sausage, bay leaf, pepper sauce and beans, stir and taste, adjusting seasoning as needed. Bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes.
1 T butter
3 T olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into strips
1 T brown sugar
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 c/225 mL red wine
8 oz/225 g mushrooms, sliced
salt & pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 c/750mL chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 c/180 mL water
1 lb/500 g short pasta
2 bay leaves
1/2 t dried thyme (generous)
2/3 c/170 mL cream
pinch cayenne pepper
6 oz/160 g gruyère, shredded
Dutch oven or other stove-to-oven pot
Preheat oven to 350° F/175° C. Heat butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and brown sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until all onions are soft and translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Add Worcestershire and wine in several additions (I did 4), letting liquid cook off between additions.
Add a bit more oil if bottom of pan looks dry and stir in mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms let out most of their liquid, add salt and pepper (taste to check) and garlic. When garlic is fragrant, pour in chicken broth and water, turn heat up to medium high and bring to a boil. Add pasta, bay leaves and thyme to boiling liquid and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes (or half cook time indicated on pasta package).
Remove pot from heat and stir in cream and cayenne pepper. Give liquid a taste and add more salt or pepper if necessary (cream often dulls salt, so you will probably need a bit more). Stir in gruyère until just distributed and bake uncovered in oven for 25-30 minutes.
Bonus recipe, you guys! A big thank you to the Paella Club in Barcelona for getting our paella game right and tight! If you’re visiting Barcelona, I highly recommend booking a class, it was extremely fun and we learned a lot. What follows is how I’ve adapted their recipe to our kitchen and available ingredients.
1/4 lb/115 g carrots, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 lb/115 g mushrooms, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 sachets ground saffron
1/2 t hot smoked paprika
1 c/225 mL tomato purée (I use whole canned tomatoes puréed in a food processor)
1 lb/500 g Bomba or Arborio rice
4 c/1 L vegetable broth
salt to taste
black truffle oil (optional)
12-in/30 cm cast iron pan or other ovenproof skillet
Preheat oven to 400°F/200° C. Heat pan on stovetop to medium high and add enough oil to fully cover the bottom. When oil shimmers, add carrots and cook, stirring frequently. You’re going to do this for a while, until the carrots have cooked way down and almost appear shriveled and dehydrated and have a faint aroma of burnt toast. This can take as long as 30 minutes, so be patient. Once your carrots reach the desired stage, remove them to a bowl and set aside. Now add the onion and cook until translucent and beginning to caramelize. Add carrots back in along with mushrooms and cook until mushrooms have let off all of their liquid and are beginning to brown. Add garlic, saffron and paprika and cook until just fragrant, 2-3 minutes.
Add tomato purée and stir well, cooking until about half of the liquid has cooked off and mixture is nice and thick. If the bottom of your pan is looking dry, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Add the rice, stirring well and coating with vegetable sauce for 3-5 minutes. Add broth and turn heat to high, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, stop stirring and turn heat to medium high to cook for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, transfer skillet to oven and cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, drizzle with truffle oil and let stand 5 minutes before serving.
This can be a side or a main. If you want the whole backstory on how this got reverse engineered, go to the blog and get the low-down.
Cabbage Roll Casserole
It sounds very humble, but this is my favorite casserole. A whole head of cabbage easily makes one dish to cook right away and one to give away.
This one is hard to categorize. Technically, it’s a soup, but since it’s all in one pot (more Dutch oven action) and goes from stove-top to oven, I’m inclined to call it a casserole. Whatever you call it, it’s extraordinarily delicious.