As cooking from home has become a necessity, we’re constantly looking for ways to make our time in the kitchen more fun and delicious. And although we love spending hours cooking up something super gourmet, it’s not always how we can — or want — to occupy our time. Enter the casserole, a one-dish wonder that you likely ate when you were young, served by moms, grandmas, and aunts everywhere. While your mind may wander to throwbacks like tuna noodle casserole (which we love, btw), really anything that comes together in a baking dish can be considered a casserole. So we chatted with some of our favorite chefs and cookbook authors to snag a few fancy casserole recipes that will definitely up your cooking game when you’re looking for a little inspiration.
“Pastitsio is a very popular baked pasta dish that is said to have origins in Venice, Italy,” Anna Francese Gass, author of Heirloom Kitchen, says. “After tasting it, I immediately thought that this dish tastes as if lasagna Bolognese and fettuccini Alfredo had a delicious love child.” In her cookbook Heirloom Kitchen, Gass features recipes from 40 immigrant women who brought their cooking to the United States. Nelly’s Pastitsio is a perfect dish if you’re looking for the ultimate comfort meal.
(Serves 8, prep time: 40 minutes, total time: 1 hour and 25 minutes)
For the meat sauce:
- 2 tbsp Greek olive oil (Nelly prefers Kosterina)
- 1.5 lb (680 g) ground beef (93 percent lean)
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 (8-oz/240 ml) can tomato sauce
- 1 tbsp coarse salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 5 to 6 allspice cloves
For the bechamel:
- .5 cup (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter
- .25 cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
- 5 cups (1.2 L) milk, heated until just simmering
- 2 tsp coarse salt
- .5 tsp nutmeg
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 2 tbsp Pecorino Romano cheese
For the pasta:
- 1 lb (455 g) ziti, cooked according to package directions, still warm
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp coarse salt
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp butter, softened
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- .25 cup plus 2 tablespoons (37g) grated pecorino Romano cheese
- 2 tsp ground nutmeg
- Make the meat sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the ground beef and cook until no pink remains. Remove from the pan and drain the meat.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan and cook the onion over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes, then return the meat to the pan. Add the tomato sauce, salt, pepper, cinnamon stick, and allspice. Cook until the ingredients are incorporated, about 15 minutes. Nelly adds .25 cup (60 ml) water if the meat begins to dry out. Divide the mixture in half.
- While the meat is cooking, make the béchamel. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Add the flour and whisk until it turns light brown. Slowly add the milk one cup at a time, whisking constantly. Add the salt and nutmeg, stir, and remove from heat.
- Slowly add the beaten eggs while continuing to whisk. Once the eggs are incorporated, place the mixture back on the medium heat and bring it to a boil. Add the pecorino and mix until incorporated. Remove from the heat.
- Prepare the pasta. Place the cooked ziti in a large bowl and coat with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt. Add the butter and mix until melted. Then add the eggs, half of the beef mixture, milk, and pepper. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius). Butter a 10×15-inch (25×38-cm) baking dish and then sprinkle it with flour. Pour the pasta into the bottom of the dish in an even layer. Spread the remaining meat sauce evenly over the pasta. Sprinkle half of the pecorino over the meat.
- Carefully pour the béchamel over the meat and spread it with offset spatula. Sprinkle with the nutmeg and the remaining pecorino. Bake uncovered for 40 to 45 minutes, until golden and bubbly.
Recipe and photo courtesy of Heirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories from the Tables of Immigrant Women by Anna Francese Gass. Harper Design, 2019.
Peach-Sweet Potato Casserole
“This savory dish could almost pass for dessert,” Just Peachy author Belinda Smith-Sullivan says. “Creamy, spiced sweet potatoes get a hit of bourbon and a decadent pecan streusel topping. Serve it as a side to pork, lamb, or turkey — it steals the show every time. Use fresh ripe peaches or peaches you’ve canned or frozen.”
(Serves 6 to 8)
- 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1⁄3 cup flour
- 4 tbsp butter, softened
- .5 cup chopped pecans
- 4 large or 6 medium sweet potatoes, baked and cooled
- 4 tbsp butter
- .5 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- .25 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1⁄3 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp bourbon
- 2 to 3 cups ripe peeled peach slices
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
- Make the crust: In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, and butter with a fork until crumbly. Stir in the pecans and set aside.
- Peel the sweet potatoes, discard the skins, and place the flesh in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla; beat until thoroughly combined. Add the cream and bourbon and continue beating until smooth.
- Pour half of the mixture into a prepared baking dish. Cover with sliced peaches and finish with remaining sweet potato mixture. Top with the brown sugar topping. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
- To make ahead, prepare the casserole, but do not bake. Cover with plastic wrap, and then cover with aluminum foil and freeze. When ready to bake, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees F, increasing baking time to 45 minutes or slightly longer.
Recipe and photo from Just Peachy by Belinda Smith-Sullivan. Photography by Mark Boughton. Gibbs-Smith, May 2019.
Fancy Green Bean Casserole
“Green bean casserole is a dish I grew up on,” Chef Tim Hollingsworth of Otium says. “My mom’s recipe would have Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom, French’s Crispy Fried Onion, and canned green beans all baked in the oven. Usually, I strive for everything to be as fresh and flavorful as possible, but canned ingredients work just as well — especially during this time. I also like to experiment with different types of mushrooms. Sometimes, I even add thinly sliced shiitake or cremini mushrooms that have been freshly crisped in the oven on top.”
- 2 cans (10.5 ounce each) Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
- 7 cups green beans (cut into 2.5 inch pieces)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp white miso
- 2 cups fried onions
- 3 cups shiitake mushrooms (thinly sliced)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- Black pepper
- In a bowl, combine cream of mushroom soup and green beans with soy sauce, white miso, and 1.5 cups of fried onions.
- Heat oil in a nonstick pan over medium. Add shiitake mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until golden brown. Remove two thirds and add to the casserole mixture.
- With the remaining one third of the mushrooms, add butter in a pan and continue to cook over low heat until brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels.
- Place green bean casserole mixture in a casserole dish and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.
- Rest for 10 minutes and garnish with remaining fried onions and crispy shiitake mushrooms.
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