Casseroles

Casserole, One Dish Meal, Hot Dish—whatever you call it, there is nothing more wonderful for the busy cook than a delicious dinner that cooks all in one pan and provides all the components of a good meal.

Casserole actually refers to a specialized baking dish, round or oval in shape.  It is usually deeper than what is referred to as a baking dish or pan, which is usually shallower.  However, it has become a term meaning a one-dish meal.  A one-dish meal can be cooked in a variety of pans: skillets, Dutch ovens, casseroles, slow cookers or woks.

A casserole is great for the family meal or for a party.  Especially for a party, actually, as it is one of the easiest ways to entertain a crowd.  It lends itself to international cooking as well as down-home American.  Casseroles are usually quick, often economical and really good.

A hot dish is a colloquial term for any one-dish meal.  In Minnesota and generally the Midwest, hot dish and casserole are interchangeable.

But doesn’t hot dish conjure up great memories of delicious family dinners, pot luck suppers at church, picnics and family gatherings?  It does for me.  It seems the old-fashioned hot dish has gone out of style; certainly the word has.  Casserole sounds more sophisticated and up-to-date, but I like hot dish—it’s comfort food personified.

I scanned my cookbook collection to come up with some great sounding hot dishes.  I have several that are dedicated to the subject and then of course, there are church cookbooks and other organization’s cookbooks.  These are the tried and true old-fashioned recipes for hot dish that many of us had in our childhood.  They often contain such prosaic ingredients as tater tots and canned soups.  Still, they aren’t a lot worse than a great many of the highly processed dinners that we all eat from time to time and kids seem to like them—especially if they include pasta and tomato sauce.  Since vegetables are almost always included, it’s a good way to get the kids to eat them.
One that has been popular for years is Spaghetti Pie:

Spaghetti Pie
6 ounces spaghetti
2 Tbsp butter
2 beaten eggs
One-third cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup cream-style cottage cheese
1 pound ground beef
½ cup chopped onion
One-fourth cup chopped green pepper
1 8-ounce can tomatoes, diced
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. garlic salt
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese (2 ounces)

Cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain (should have about 3 cups).  Stir butter into hot spaghetti; stir in beaten eggs and Parmesan cheese.  Form spaghetti mixture into a “crust” in a greased 10-inch pie plate.  Spread with cottage cheese.
In skillet cook ground meat, onion, and green pepper till meat is brown and vegetables are tender.  Drain off fat.  Stir in undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, oregano and garlic salt; heat through.
Turn meat mixture into spaghetti crust.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese; bake till melted, about 5 minutes.  Makes 6 servings.

My vote for an international Casserole (this is definitely not a hot dish) is Spanish Paella.  Although not particularly economical, it is a really colorful and delicious dish to set before guests.  As there are dozens of recipes for Paella, I chose one that doesn’t take a great many hard-to-find ingredients.  A special Paella pan would really set this off, but a large, shallow casserole or electric skillet will work.

Paella Casserole
½ pound chorizo sausage, sliced
1 2-1/2 to 3-pound chicken, cut up
1 medium onion chopped (1/2 cup)
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups regular rice
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tsp. salt
One-fourth tsp. saffron, crushed
4 cups boiling water
1 pound fresh or frozen shelled and cleaned shrimp
10 small clams in shells
1 10-ounce package frozen peas

In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium heat until done.  Drain sausage, reserving drippings in skillet; set aside.
Season chicken pieces with a little salt and pepper.  Brown chicken in reserved drippings; remove chicken, reserving drippings in skillet.
Add chopped onion, red pepper, green pepper, and garlic into reserved drippings; cook till onion is tender but not brown.  Stir in uncooked rice, chopped tomatoes, salt and saffron.  Stir in boiling water; bring mixture to boiling.  Stir in cooked sausage.
Turn rice mixture into a paella pan or a 4-quart casserole or a Dutch oven; arrange chicken pieces atop mixture.  Bake, covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, thaw frozen shrimp.  Thoroughly scrub clams.  Place clams in a saucepan with ½ inch of boiling water; cover and cook till shells open, 3 to 5 minutes.  Drain; discard any clams that do not open.
Place peas in a colander or strainer; rinse with hot water to thaw.  Arrange peas, clams and shrimp atop rice mixture.  Bake, covered, till chicken and rice are done, 25 to 20 minutes longer.  Garnish with lemon slices, if desired.  Serves 8.

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