A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Casseroles can be a collection of flavorful ingredients that work together to make tempting one-pot meals. Handy comfort food.
According to “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink” (Oxford, $125), stews have been around since prehistoric times, adding that they have gradually taken on a distinctively American identity. Many ingredients were scarce during the First World War and the leftovers were made into casseroles. The same was true of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Growing up in the 1950s, I thought of stews as troughs smothered in cream-of-something canned soup. For many, those years brought the ubiquitous tuna potato chip casserole. Now in my home, COVID caution has inspired stews to become de rigueur when entertaining friends and family. The meal is complete with the addition of a green salad. If the weather is nice, it can easily be served outside. Kitchen without fuss.
These updated stews are delicious and more appealing in taste than those from childhood’s cherished concoctions.
Mexican ‘lasagna’ with turkey, corn and pinto beans
This tasty casserole combines the flavors of Mexican cuisine with the layered approach of an Italian lasagna. It can be made up and kept refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance. If made ahead of time, let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, then cover tightly with oiled (inside) aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 450 degree oven until completely hot, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until topping is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with coriander before serving.
Yield: 6 to 8
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided use
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 can (15-ounce) pinto beans, rinsed, drained
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 3/4 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
6 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander, divided use
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
19 (6-inch) corn tortillas, divided use
12 ounces (3 cups) shredded Jack cheese, divided use
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, bell pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, chipotle, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in ground turkey and cook, breaking up the meat, until no longer pink, about 5 to 8 minutes.
2. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Stir in beans, tomatoes, and corn; simmer until mixture has thickened slightly and flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, set the oven racks to the top-center and bottom-center positions and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of tortillas with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Divide tortillas between 2 baking sheets (some overlap is fine). Bake until soft and pliable, 2 to 4 minutes.
4. Spread one-third of the turkey mixture over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Top with 6 warmed tortillas, overlapping if necessary, and sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Repeat with half the turkey mixture, 6 tortillas, and 1 cup cheese. Top with the remaining turkey mixture. Cut the remaining 6 tortillas into quarters and divide over them. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup cheese.
5. Bake on top center rack until filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let the casserole cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining coriander and serve.
Source: Adapted from “Cook’s Illustrated All Time Best Sunday Suppers” (America’s Test Kitchen, $22.95)
Farfalle and Wild Mushrooms Supreme
As written, this casserole qualifies as vegetarian. But if you want, you can add some chopped ham or chopped cooked chicken. The dish calls for dried farfalle, the pasta shape made from small sheets of pasta dough squeezed into a butterfly shape. Fusilli or small orecchiette can be substituted. Grated Pecorino cheese makes for a tangy topping, but if you prefer, you can use Parmigiano-Reggiano or a combination of Pecorino and Romano cheeses. I like to add 1/2 cup chopped parsley to the mix at the end of step 4. It adds a welcome spice note.
Yield: 8 servings
1 pound dried farfalle pasta
Soft butter for greasing the pan
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, divided use (1/4 cup+2 tablespoons+2 tablespoons)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitakes (stems removed), thinly sliced or roughly chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese
1. Cook the farfalle in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente (just soft); drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup butter and toss to coat.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole and set aside.
3. In a large, deep skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and toss to coat. Cook until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add wine and cover; simmer for 5 minutes, adjusting temperature to simmer if necessary. Add half-and-half, season with salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
4. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons butter with flour; mix into a paste. Gradually add it to the mushroom mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. In another small bowl, whisk milk and eggs. Stir the egg mixture into the mushroom mixture. When blended, pour the sauce over the pasta and mix well to combine.
5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared casserole. Sprinkle the top evenly with cheese. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
Source: “Crazy for stews” by James Villas (Harvard Press, $18.95)
Mediterranean Shrimp and Orzo Casserole
Large pair of raw shrimp with saffron, garlic and orzo paste in this delicious casserole. The vibrant colors and flavors are complemented by a spicy feta cheese topping. When cooking the orzo, be careful not to overcook it or it may overcook during the last bake in the oven.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 1/2 pounds raw king prawns (26 to 30 per pound), peeled, deveined
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, stemless, seeded and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound dried orzo pasta, see chef’s notes
1 pinch saffron, see chef’s notes
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup of water
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
12 ounces (3 cups) feta cheese, crumbled, see chef’s notes
4 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced including half of dark green stems
Chef’s Notes: Orzo is a type of pasta that is similar in shape and size to rice. If you don’t have saffron, substitute 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric; it adds a nice yellow-orange color, but not the flavor. Use crumbled feta flavored with Mediterranean herbs if you like.
1. Set the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season shrimp with salt and pepper; put aside.
2. Heat oil in a deep, 12-inch skillet until shimmering. Add onion, bell pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add orzo, saffron, and zest; cook, stirring frequently, until orzo is coated in oil and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in stock and water; cook, stirring occasionally, until orzo grains are mostly soft but still a little firm in the center, about 12 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, oregano and seasoned shrimp.
3. Pour into 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle feta over top and bake until shrimp are cooked through and feta is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon juice and garnish with green onions. serve.
Source: “Cook’s Illustrated All Time Best Sunday Suppers” (America’s Test Kitchen, $22.95)
Cooking question? Please contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected]