Casserole

Tuna Casserole

Tuna Casserole is a classic comfort food topped with crushed potato chips. Made with canned tuna and egg noodles, this tuna casserole is always a family favorite.

Ready in:

  • Cook time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6

Family Favorite Tuna Casserole

My father and I have been reminiscing lately about my mom’s tuna casserole, the one she used to make in the 60s, with cream of mushroom soup, broccoli, lots of cheese, and a crushed potato chip topping.

Mom has only the vaguest recollection of a tuna casserole (“I think it had broccoli in it.”) In fact, today she said she had no memory of it at all.

Did she really make it? Or are dad and I remembering something instead from a school cafeteria?

In any case, I attempted to reproduce it for today’s lunch, in honor of the weekend and long forgotten family traditions.

Tuna casserole using cream of mushroom soup

Entering our pantry for the first time in 20 years was a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup (really must use this one, no other will do.) Also, I used Kettle potato chips – very good quality.

The verdict? Yes, it’s just what you want in a classic tuna casserole! Filling, cheesy, crunchy topping, not too tuna-y.

The visiting picky eater kids (okay, not that picky, thank God) had three servings.

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces wide egg noodles
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli (about 1/2 lb)
  • 2 (6-ounce) cans tuna, drained
  • 1 (10 3/4 oz)can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup crushed potato chips

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces wide egg noodles
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli (about 1/2 lb)
  • 2 (6-ounce) cans tuna, drained
  • 1 (10 3/4 oz)can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup crushed potato chips

Method

1 Cook the noodles and broccoli: Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large (6 qt) pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt. Return to a boil. Add noodles. Cook uncovered on high heat on a rolling boil.

Just before pasta is al dente, (firm but cooked through, earliest cooking time minus 2 minutes), add the chopped broccoli to the pasta and cook for 2 more minutes.

Drain in a colander and set aside.

2 Sauté mushrooms: While the pasta is cooking, dry sauté the mushrooms in a frying pan on medium high heat (no need to add butter or oil, mushrooms will cook in their own juice).

When mushrooms have given up their moisture (about 5-10 minutes), remove from heat and set aside.

3 Cook the onions: After the pasta is done and is draining in a colander, heat a large oven-proof pan on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the onions and cook them until translucent.

4 Combine pasta, broccoli, mushrooms, tuna, can of mushroom soup, cheese, milk, cream: Add the pasta and broccoli mixture back into the pot; stir in the mushrooms. Stir in the tuna, can of cream of mushroom soup, grated cheese, milk and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5 Top with crushed potato chips: Spread crushed potato chips over the top of the mixture.

6 Bake: Cook for 20 minutes at 400°F in the oven, until the topping has browned.

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Polenta Casserole with Fontina and Tomato Sauce

Baked polenta with fontina cheese, basil and tomato sauce.

Ready in:

  • Yield: Serves 6

We came across this baked polenta recipe in an old Bon Appetit issue, and used up the last of our garden basil to make it.

The recipe comes from an article on a unique Tuscan farm, Spannocchia, a working farm “eco” retreat, noted for its artisanal salumi.

The casserole was delicious, and the farm looks even more intriguing. I love the idea of being able to hang out in a Tuscan kitchen taking cooking classes for vacation, don’t you?

If fresh basil isn’t available, make the sauce with canned whole tomatoes that have basil included. Muir Glen has an excellent product that we often use. If you prefer mozzarella over fontina, feel free to substitute.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped carrots
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes (with basil if you have it)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (or 1 Tbsp fresh, chopped)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup polenta, or coarse cornmeal
  • 2 cups grated Fontina cheese

Method

1 Make the sauce: Heat olive oil in a large saucepan on medium heat, add the onions, carrots, and celery. Cook until onions are translucent and carrots just tender (5-10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook a minute more.

Add the tomatoes and their juice (break up tomatoes as you put them in), parsley, and oregano. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered, until sauce is reduced to about 3 cups.

Mix in fresh basil, season to taste with salt and pepper.

2 Make the polenta: In a large saucepan bring a quart of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt. Slowly whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until thick and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

3 Layer sauce, polenta, cheese in baking dish: Prepare a baking dish, brush 8x8x2 pyrex or ceramic baking dish with olive oil. Spread 1/3 of the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Pour half of the polenta over the sauce. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Pour another third of the sauce over the cheese. Pour the remaining half of the polenta over the sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, cover with remaining sauce. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature.

4 Bake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake until completely heated through, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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Civil War Macaroni and Cheese

Easy mac cheese recipe based on an authentic American Civil War era recipe for maccaroni cheese.

Ready in:

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

Today, as I write this, marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of America’s Civil War, with the bombardment of Fort Sumter .

I recently took my 13-year old nephew to visit our nation’s capitol, including visiting Robert E. Lee’s house at Arlington National Cemetery, and a day wandering the battlefield at Gettysburg.

The National Military Park Museum at Gettysburg is not to be missed, by the way. Not only does it give you a clear and thorough understanding of the 3-day battle that took place there, but the photos and relics on display give us a fascinating glimpse into what life must have been like back then.

It wasn’t really that long ago. My grandmother was born in 1899. The last Civil War veterans died in the 1950s. My grandmother would have encountered many a Civil War veteran in her younger days.

So, what did they eat in the 1860s? How did they eat? Most people lived on farms or in rural areas, so they grew, shot, foraged, or fished their own food.

Many people didn’t have stoves. Many cooked their meals over an open fire in a fireplace or hearth. Which is all the more reason why I was so surprised to find a recipe for “Maccaroni Cheese” in a collection of Civil War recipes (Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book) along with recipes for okra soup, indian pudding, gumbo and brown bread.

Mac-n-cheese in the 1860s, really?

Really! Turns out that our founding father Thomas Jefferson helped popularize “maccaroni” in our country, “maccaroni” being a general term he used for pasta. And according to Wikipedia, versions of macaroni pasta with cheese and butter were published in cookbooks as early as the 14th century.

According to the Civil War Recipes book, the following “maccaroni cheese” recipe first appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine in 1861 (circulation 150,000). It’s only one sentence long, and as you will see, is wildly open for interpretation:

Boil the maccaroni in milk; put in the stewpan butter, cheese, and seasoning; when melted, pour into the maccaroni, putting breadcrums over, which brown before the fire all together.

How much milk? What kind of cheese? How much cheese? What seasoning?

Well, if recipes are guidelines, then this recipe isn’t much more than just that, a guideline.

For our interpretation, we use 2 cups of milk for every cup of elbow macaroni pasta. We use equal amounts of pasta and cheese, and use cheddar for the cheese. The seasonings we use are nutmeg, pepper, and cayenne. Mace would have been commonly available in the 1860s, nutmeg is more often used now. Pepper and cayenne would have been widely available too.

The result?

A triumph!

Actually, it’s kind of hard to go wrong with mac and cheese, but we had never cooked the macaroni directly in milk before, so didn’t quite know how it would work, or if the proportions were right. For us 2 cups of milk for every 1/4 pound of pasta worked fine.

Update 1-27-12 I’ve discovered another recipe from Godey’s published in this blog. The author says that Parmesan cheese would have been more common to use in a mac and cheese from this era. Good to know!

You must use whole milk for this recipe. If you use low fat or non-fat milk, the mixture may curdle.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni pasta (2 to 2 1/2 cups)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups, packed, grated cheddar cheese (about 1/2 pound)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • Cayenne (optional)

Method

1 Cook the macaroni in milk: Heat the milk in a large saucepan until steamy. Stir in the dry macaroni pasta. Let come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Pay attention while the macaroni is cooking in the milk as the milk may foam up and boil over if the milk gets too hot.

Cook the macaroni for 15 minutes or until done. The macaroni should absorb almost all of the milk.

2 Make the sauce with butter, cheese, spices: Preheat oven to 400°F. As soon as the macaroni is close to being done, melt the butter in a separate saucepan, stir in the grated cheese, black pepper to taste and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.

3 Mix the sauce and cooked macaroni: Once the cheese has melted, pour the sauce into the macaroni and milk mixture and stir to combine. Taste and add salt if needed.

4 Top with breadcrumbs and bake: Place macaroni and cheese mixture into a baking dish. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne (if using). Bake in a 400°F oven for 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.

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Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti – classic Italian American comfort food of pasta baked with sausage, tomato sauce and all kinds of gooey, yummy cheeses. So EASY and so good!

Ready in:

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: Serves at least 8

Do you like lasagna, but not the fuss? Make baked ziti instead!

It’s a lot like a classic lasagna casserole, but easier to make and without lots of layers or broken noodles.

It makes for a perfect midweek or weekend meal, or a hot dish to bring to a potluck. Make extra and freeze for later.

This recipe is a pretty basic version, but everyone who makes baked ziti has their own unique tricks and twists to it. Some vary the cheeses, some the meat, some make meatless versions, and some people leave out the tomato sauce for a truly cheese-tastic casserole.

This version uses bulk Italian sausage, as well as a key fresh herb. In summer, that would be basil. In winter, rosemary. You could also easily use savory, sage, thyme or parsley.

Ziti is a pretty common pasta shape in most areas, but you can substitute penne pasta if you can’t find it. You want a substantial short pasta shape with places to hold the sauce and meat. You can assemble this ahead, and either refrigerate or freeze before you do the final baking.

How to make Baked Ziti

If you don’t have Italian seasoning in the pantry, use 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried basil and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ziti (can sub penne) pasta
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage or ground beef or pork
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or basil), minced
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 large jar of marinara sauce (about 32 ounces) or make your own tomato sauce
  • 1/2 pound of mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1 heaping cup of ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

Method

1 Boil the pasta: Heat a large pot of water (2 quarts of water) to a strong boil. Add a tablespoon of salt. Add the pasta and cook at a rolling boil, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente—edible but still a little firm to the bite.

Drain the pasta through a colander. Toss with a little olive oil so the pasta does not stick together while you make the sauce.

2 Brown the meat: While the water is heating in the previous step, start on the sauce. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering hot, add the bulk sausage or ground meat. Break up any large chunks of sausage as it cooks. Brown well.

Don’t stir that often or it will be more difficult for the meat to brown. If you are using ground beef or pork instead of sausage, sprinkle with a little salt.

3 Add onions and sauté, then add garlic, spices, then tomato sauce: When the meat is mostly browned, add the onions and stir well to combine. Sauté everything until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 4-5 minutes.

Add the garlic, rosemary or basil, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Cook 1 minute, then add the tomato sauce and stir well. Bring to a simmer.

4 Preheat the oven to 350°F.

5 Layer sauce, cheese, pasta in casserole dish: Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9×13-inch casserole pan, then dot the surface with half the ricotta cheese. Ladle a spoonful of sauce into the pasta, stir it well and then add the pasta into the casserole.

Pour the rest of the sauce over the pasta, dot the remaining ricotta cheese over the pasta, and sprinkle on top both the mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese.

6 Bake 20 min: Bake in oven at 350°F until the top is lightly browned and the cheese melted, about 20 minutes.

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Turkey Tetrazzini

Turkey tetrazzini recipe, a turkey casserole with egg noodles, mushrooms, peas, Parmesan and Swiss cheeses, cream, bread crumbs and turkey.

Ready in:

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Turkey leftovers anyone? Try this American classic turkey casserole—Turkey Tetrazzini—a hearty pasta bake that includes sautéed mushrooms, a cheesy creamy sauce, leftover turkey peas, and egg noodles.

Tetrazzini is thought to have been originated in San Francisco, named after a famous opera singer of the early 1900s—Luisa Tetrazzini—who lived there for many years.

I made this for them the other night and judging by my dad’s three servings, it passes with flying colors. It’s a great way to use up turkey leftovers!

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces mushrooms, sliced (about 4-5 cups)
  • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided 3 Tbsp, 4 Tbsp, and 1 Tbsp
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 oz egg noodles, spaghetti, linguini or other pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry (or vermouth or dry white wine)
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped cooked turkey
  • 1 cup peas
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (divided into 1/3 and 1/3 cups)
  • 1/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/3 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (or panko)
  • Freshly chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces mushrooms, sliced (about 4-5 cups)
  • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided 3 Tbsp, 4 Tbsp, and 1 Tbsp
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 oz egg noodles, spaghetti, linguini or other pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry (or vermouth or dry white wine)
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped cooked turkey
  • 1 cup peas
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (divided into 1/3 and 1/3 cups)
  • 1/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/3 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (or panko)
  • Freshly chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Method

1 Preheat oven and heat water for pasta: Preheat oven to 375°F. Start heating 2 to 3 quarts of water for the pasta. Add 1 teaspoon of salt for each quart of water.

2 Sauté mushrooms: Cook the mushrooms in 3 Tbsp of the butter over medium-high heat, stirring, until all of the liquid the mushrooms give off has evaporated, 5-7 minutes. Set aside.

3 Make a roux with flour and butter: In a large, heavy saucepan, melt 4 Tbsp of butter. Stir in the flour, and cook the mixture over low heat, stirring, for 3 minutes.

4 Add pasta to boiling water: About now, put the pasta into the boiling water you’ve heated. Follow the package directions and cook until al dente. While the pasta is cooking continue on with the recipe.

5 Make the sauce: Into the saucepan with the butter and flour, slowly whisk in the milk, cream, chicken broth, and the sherry. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 to 8 minutes.

6 Assemble the casserole: When the pasta is ready, drain it. In a large bowl combine the pasta, the sauce, the mushrooms, the turkey, and the peas. Stir in 1/3 cup of the Parmesan and the 1/3 cup of Swiss cheese. Stir in the lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Note that if you have been using unsalted butter, and/or unsalted or low sodium stock, you will need to add more salt than you might expect. Just keep sprinkling it in until it is seasoned to your taste.

Add a pinch of ground nutmeg if using, again to taste. Transfer the mixture to a buttered 3-quart casserole.

7 Make breadcrumb Parmesan topping: In a small bowl combine well the remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan and the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the tetrazzini, and dot the top with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, cut into bits.

8 Bake: Bake the Tetrazzini at 375°F in the middle rack of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it is bubbling and the top is golden.

Garnish individual servings with chopped parsley.

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Mexican Lasagna

Mexican Lasagna, also known as Mexican Casserole, Stacked Enchilada or Taco Lasagna. Layered casserole with corn tortillas, ground beef, green chiles, beans, salsa, and cheese.

Ready in:

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8

You know what I love about Mexican “Lasagna” (aka”Mexican Casserole” “Stacked Enchilada” or “Taco Lasagna”)? It’s like all of my favorite Mexican foods—tacos, enchiladas, tostadas—layered into one giant dish.

How to Make Mexican Lasagna

It’s called a Mexican “lasagna” because it’s layered like its Italian distant cousin (very distant). Only in true southwestern style, we are using corn tortillas in place of lasagna noodles, salsa instead of sauce, beans in place of béchamel, and mild cheddar and jack instead of ricotta and Parmesan.

Mexican Lasagna – Perfect for Any Meal!

As you can imagine, it is a filling dish, perfect for potlucks and large gatherings of hungry people. Makes great leftovers too! Serve with eggs for breakfast. Great with guacamole and sour cream.

Recipe and photos updated, first published 2007

Corn tortillas come in different varieties. The sturdy yellow corn tortillas will have more flavor, and hold up better in this casserole, but they do require “softening” or cooking in a little oil before layering. If you use tender white corn tortillas, you may not need to soften them.

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 14-oz can refried pinto beans (or you can make your own refried beans)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped, about 2 1/2 cups
  • 1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, chopped, about 1 cup
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 28-oz can crushed or diced tomatoes, preferably “Fire Roasted”
  • 1 7-oz can diced green Anaheim chiles
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 12 corn tortillas (choose sturdy tortillas mad with yellow corn)
  • 2 cups coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese (about 8 oz)
  • 2 cups coarsely grated mild cheddar cheese (about 8 oz)

Extras

  • Sour cream
  • Avocado
  • Cilantro
  • Iceberg lettuce

Method

1 Brown the ground beef: Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large sauté pan or cast iron frying pan on medium high heat. Add the ground meat, breaking it up as you add it.

Sprinkle with salt. Sprinkle on the chile powder, cayenne, cumin, and coriander. Increase the heat to high. Add another 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Do not stir the meat unnecessarily. Allow the meat to brown on one side, and then stir it so the other side can be browned.

As soon as the meat is browned, remove the pan from the burner. The meat will continue to cook in the heat of the pan.

Once you are sure that the meat is cooked through, use a slotted spoon to remove the meat from the pan to a bowl. Set aside.

2 Sauté onions, bell peppers, garlic, add tomatoes, chiles, oregano: Once the meat is done cooking, and has been removed from the pan in step 1, add another Tbsp of olive oil to the pan and heat to medium.

Add the onions and chopped bell peppers, cook until onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for an additional 1 minute.

Add the diced tomatoes, green chiles and oregano. Bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes while you prepare the tortillas.

3 Cook the tortillas: While the sauce is simmering, soften the tortillas by frying them in a little oil. In a 9-inch skillet, heat 1/2 cup olive oil on medium high heat until it is sizzling hot, but not smoking.

Cook the tortillas one at a time, for 5 seconds on each side, so that they soften, but don’t get crisp.

Remove the tortillas with a metal spatula or tongs and place on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil.

4 Preheat oven: Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly oil a 13x9x3-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.

5 In a casserole dish, layer the tortillas with beans, meat, cheese, and sauce: In baking dish arrange 4 tortillas in one layer, overlapping slightly (tortillas will not cover bottom completely).

(If you don’t have time to pre-soften the tortillas, coat the bottom of the pan with some olive oil and spread a little sauce over the bottom before adding the tortillas.)

Spread half of bean mixture evenly over tortillas in dish and top with half of meat mixture.

Sprinkle one third cheese over the meat and spread half of the sauce over the cheese.

Repeat layering of tortillas, beans, meat, cheese, and sauce and top with remaining 4 tortillas. Sprinkle remaining cheese over tortillas.

6 Bake: Bake casserole on the middle rack in the oven for 35 minutes, until the casserole is heated through and the cheese is completely melted and bubbling.

Let the casserole stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serve with sour cream, chopped avocado, chopped cilantro, and thinly sliced iceberg lettuce on which has been sprinkled vinegar and salt.

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Sausage, Spinach, Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells

Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with Italian sausage, spinach, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, covered with cooked tomatoes and baked.

Ready in:

  • Yield: Serves 8

There must be a special place in heaven for men who cook. My father made this dish the other day to my mother’s and my delight.

It always amazes me that dad, who isn’t a patient man to begin with, and what little patience he had he lost raising six kids, will still make the effort to gently stuff dozens of pasta shells. Not to say there wasn’t any grumbling, but he knew the work was going to pay off, and it did.

Jumbo pasta shells, stuffed with a mixture of Italian sausage, spinach, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, surrounded by tomatoes and baked until bubbly, do you think there were any leftovers? Hah! No way.

Ingredients

  • 1 12-ounce package jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 large egg
  • 16-ounces ricotta cheese
  • 10-ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry, chopped further (or 10 ounces chopped fresh spinach)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can tomatoes with herbs, including the liquid, tomatoes broken up (or your favorite tomato or pasta sauce)
  • 2 9×13 shallow baking dishes

Ingredients

  • 1 12-ounce package jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 large egg
  • 16-ounces ricotta cheese
  • 10-ounces chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry, chopped further (or 10 ounces chopped fresh spinach)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can tomatoes with herbs, including the liquid, tomatoes broken up (or your favorite tomato or pasta sauce)
  • 2 9×13 shallow baking dishes

Method

1 Cook pasta shells: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (1 teaspoon salt per quart of water). Cook the pasta shells according to the instructions on the package. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

2 Cook onions, then sausage, then add garlic: Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the sausage to the pan, breaking up the sausage into smaller bits. Lower the heat to medium. Cook sausage until cooked through, and no pink remains, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute more. Remove pan from heat.

3 Make ricotta spinach stuffing: Beat the egg lightly in a large bowl. Mix in the ricotta, chopped spinach, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese, basil, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and sausage mixture.

4 Fill pasta shells with stuffing: Fill each cooked pasta shell with some of the ricotta, spinach, sausage mixture.

5 Arrange stuffed shells on chopped canned tomatoes in baking dish: Spread 1/2 cup chopped canned tomatoes over the bottom of each of the baking dishes. Arrange the stuffed pasta shells in the dishes. Spread the remaining tomatoes over the top of the pasta shells.

At this point you can make ahead, to freeze (up to four months) or refrigerate before cooking. (If freezing, cover with foil, then wrap with plastic wrap.)

6 Bake: Heat oven to 375°F. Cover the pans with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until hot and bubbling.

Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese, bake uncovered for 10 more minutes.

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Pastelón (Puerto Rican Plantain “Lasagna”)

Pastelón is a classic Puerto Rican dish made with layers of thinly-sliced plantains, ground beef, and cheese! Think of it as a Puerto Rican version of lasagna. It’s the perfect casserole to make for a potluck or family gathering.

Ready in:

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Pastelón, the Puerto Rican layered meat and sweet plantain pie, is one of those recipes that can divide families.

Being a “Nuyorican” (a Puerto Rican from New York), I found this to be true when my husband and I came together over our first dish of pastelón. As a native Puerto Rican, he argued that my version “wasn’t the real deal.”

It was as real to me as his attitude, so I defended my version tooth and nail!

According to him, and many other mainland Puerto Ricans, pastelón has no cheese. It must also include green beans—French cut.

But for most Nuyoricans like me, cheese is a must and green beans are omitted.

Some camps include all of the above, plus the addition of raisins. (Although if there’s one thing that my husband and I can agree on, it’s that raisins should come nowhere near a dish of pastelón.)

THE INGREDIENTS FOR MAKING PASTELÓN

Personal preferences for cheese, green beans, or raisins aside, all pastelóns contain a filling of ground beef, onion, and bell pepper called picadillo. This is layered between thinly sliced, fried strips of sweet ripe plantains, similar to Italian lasagna.

An egg mixture is then poured over the pie and the whole blessed thing is baked to perfection.

Here are a few ingredients that might be unfamiliar to you if you haven’t done a lot of Puerto Rican cooking, plus where to buy and best substitutes if you’re having trouble finding them:

  • Sweet Plantains: When ripe, plantains have a bright yellow peel that is often mottled with brown or black spots, and it will yield to light pressure — take a look at the photo of ripe and unripe plantains above. Ripe plantains are much sweeter than unripe green plantains, and larger and starchier than their banana cousins. Plantains can be found at most large grocery stores or Latin markets. It’s fine to buy them while they’re still green; just let them sit out on your counter until ripe (which can take up to five days).
  • Adobo Seasoning Blend: Adobo acts like a seasoned salt, with granulated garlic, dried oregano, black pepper and turmeric. This mix is widely available in the spice section at most national grocery store chains as well as at Latin markets.
  • Sazón Flavoring Blend: Typically used to add flavor and color, sazón contains salt, granulated garlic, pepper, and cumin. You can buy this mix at Latin markets, but it’s fine to skip it if you’re having trouble finding it.
  • Recaito Flavoring Base: Derived from Mexican coriander, recaito is a flavor base with onions, garlic, sweet peppers, and a little bit of cilantro. Substitute a tablespoon of chopped cilantro if you can’t find recaito.

EVERYONE’S PASTELÓN IS UNIQUE

Each family has their own version of pastelón—it is the ultimate in comfort food, so any time is a good time to prepare and serve it. Mine includes shredded cheese and leaves out the traditional raisins and green beans. If you’d like, leave out the cheese, or add in 1/2 cup raisins or 1 cup canned drained French cut green beans.

MORE FAMILY-FRIENDLY CASSEROLES

  • Mexican Lasagna
  • Salsa Verde Chicken Bake
  • Beef Noodle Casserole
  • Red Chili Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients

  • 4 ripe plantains, about 3 to 3 1/4 pounds
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (preferably ground round) or ground turkey
  • 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning blend
  • 1 package sazón flavoring blend, optional
  • 1 small white onion, minced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 green bell pepper, minced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon recaito flavoring base, or 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 6 pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 cups Monterey jack, cheddar, or mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Ingredients

  • 4 ripe plantains, about 3 to 3 1/4 pounds
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (preferably ground round) or ground turkey
  • 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning blend
  • 1 package sazón flavoring blend, optional
  • 1 small white onion, minced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 green bell pepper, minced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon recaito flavoring base, or 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 6 pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 cups Monterey jack, cheddar, or mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Method

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10×10 casserole dish (for a thicker pastelón) or 9×13 casserole dish (for a thinner pastelón) with nonstick cooking spray or butter.

2 Prepare the plantains: Cut off both ends from the plantain, then use the tip of your knife to cut a slit down the back. Using your two thumbs, remove the peel from the plantain and discard the peel.

Once you’ve peeled all the plantains, slice each one in half down the length. Separate the two halves and flip them onto their flat sides to create a stable base. Place your palm flat on top of the plantain, and use a sharp knife to slice parallel to the cutting board and cut the plantains into very thin slices (about 1/4-inch thick). Set aside.

(Alternatively, you can use a mandoline to slice the plantains thinly, but be careful because the plantains are soft and the mandoline is sharp!)

 

3 Fry the plantains: In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil to 300°F over medium heat (check the temperature with a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer). Line a plate with paper towels to drain the plantains after frying, and set next to the stove.

Place four or five slices of plantains into the oil and fry for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, or until the plantains have a browned slightly. Remove from the skillet to the paper-lined plate to drain. Continue frying the remaining plantains.

4 Cook the beef: Drain all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan you used to fry the plantains. Return the pan to the stove and heat over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and season with the adobo and sazón.

Continue to cook the meat, breaking it up into crumbles, for 6 minutes or until browned. Drain the meat by pouring it into a colander, but leave a bit of the grease in the pan to cook the vegetables.

5 Cook the vegetables: Return the empty pan to the heat and cook the onions, bell pepper, and recaito for 3 minutes or until glossy. Add the olives, capers, and dried oregano, and cook for 2 more minutes.

6 Finish the filling: Return the ground beef to the pan with the vegetables, along with the tomato sauce, and then stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat.

7 Assemble the pastelón: Cover the bottom of the casserole dish with a single layer of the fried plantain strips. Spoon a 1-inch layer of the ground beef mixture onto the plantains. Top with 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Repeat with another layer of plantains, meat, and cheese (reserve the remaining 1 cup of cheese). Top with a final layer of plantains.

  

8 Add the egg layer: In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and baking soda until frothy. Pour this mixture over the plantains.

9 Bake the pastelón, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the remaining cup of cheese. Return the dish to the oven and cook for an additional five minutes, until the cheese has melted.

10 Cool and serve: Remove the pastelón from the oven. Allow it to cool for at least fifteen minutes before slicing and serving, which helps it maintain its shape when sliced.

Leftovers can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three days. To reheat, cut a portion and place either in the microwave or the oven until warmed through.

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Cheesy Funeral Potatoes From Scratch

Cheesy funeral potatoes without canned soup or frozen shredded potatoes? Yes, it can be done! Here is everything you need to know, from shredding the potatoes to adding the crunchy topping.

Ready in:

  • Prep time: 35 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings

Ever had Funeral Potatoes before? This is a cheesy, creamy, spoonable potato casserole — an ideal side dish for a potluck supper or other large gathering.

Funeral potatoes are usually made with sour cream, condensed cream of chicken soup from a can, frozen shredded potatoes, and a cornflake or bread crumb topping. This makes a delicious casserole, certainly, but I wanted to try making a version from scratch using homemade ingredients.

Where do FUNERAL POTATOES come from?

Funeral potatoes are often associated with Southern and Mormon cultures, specifically the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Relief Society (a women-led organization founded in 1842 and dedicated to serving those in need).

However, nearly every region of the U.S. its own version of this potato casserole under a different name. They’re sometimes called cheesy potatoes, hash brown casserole, church potatoes, or party potatoes, among other names.

Wondering where the name “funeral potatoes” comes from? This creamy comfort food received the funeral nickname because it’s an easy dish to serve a crowd, and it’s often made for an after-funeral meal or given to a grieving family.

FUNERAL POTATOES FROM SCRATCH

While part of this recipe’s charm is its ease — tear open a bag of frozen hash browns and a bag of shredded cheddar cheese and then stir them together with a can of cream of chicken soup and few scoops of sour cream — I wanted to make a version from scratch.

I wondered if using homemade soup, fresh potatoes, and fresh ingredients would make a difference. It did.

My finished from-scratch recipe for funeral potatoes has a creamy texture and a rich flavor, studded throughout with nice bits of chicken. I even made a traditional version with frozen hash browns and canned cream of chicken soup for comparison. While it reminded me of the potatoes of my youth, this from-scratch version won hands down.

Make THE SHREDDED POTATOES

I tried making the potatoes a few different ways before settling on my final choice, including shredding and squeezing potatoes of moisture, shredding but not squeezing, shredding the potatoes and the onion together (a trick from making latkes that helps prevent the potatoes from greying), and also parboiling the potatoes with the skin on, peeling them, then shredding them in my food processor.

Ultimately, the parboiled potatoes were the winner. This same parboiling technique is used by restaurant chefs to make French fries that have fluffy centers and crisp exteriors — here, it intensified the overall creaminess of my hash brown casserole. The shredded potatoes combined easily with the other ingredients and gave it a creamy texture while still keeping their shape.

You can also parboil the potatoes up to 3 days in advance without worrying about the potatoes drying out or oxidizing (which turns potatoes grey). Just cool and store them with the skins on in the refrigerator, and then shred them on the day you plan to make the casserole. The skin doesn’t peel quite as easily when the potatoes are cold, but gentle pressure with a knife will still make quick work of the job.

CREAM OF CHICKEN SOUP FROM SCRATCH

I ended up developing a completely separate recipe for cream of chicken soup, which you can use for these funeral potatoes or any recipe that calls for cream of chicken soup.

  • Get the full recipe and read all about it here: Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup

This recipe takes a page from classic gumbo and starts with a roux, which is a combination of fat and flour that helps to thicken soups, intensify flavors and keep the fat from separating out from the other liquids in the soup. The darker the roux the more flavorful the soup, but how dark you go is up to you.

To increase the flavor the soup, I use the rendered fat from chicken thighs to make the roux and then also use the thighs themselves to make a quick homemade chicken stock. The results are extraordinary, and make a soup worthy of eating as its own meal.

This is soup base is definitely the most labor-intensive part of making funeral potatoes from scratch. To break up the work, make the soup ahead of time and refrigerate it for up to four days. (Note that I don’t recommend freezing it since freezing and reheating can affect the texture.)

Panko makes THE BEST CRUNCHY TOPPING

Panko won the topping test — never will a cornflake touch a potato casserole in my house again.

Panko makes a consistently crunchy topping and eliminates the step of crushing the cornflakes into crumbs. By contrast, the cornflake topping that I tested had inconsistent flake sizes depending on how well I crushed them, which made some bits toasty and others chewy.

The crunchy panko topping also reheated beautifully, while the cornflake topping was just so-so.

8×8 is THE BEST PAN SIZE FOR FUNERAL POTATOES

Most potato casserole recipes call for a 9×13 inch pan because the idea is to feed a crowd. But if you want to have them for dinner for a family of four, a 9×13 pan feels like too much.

As written, this recipe fits in an 8×8 pan, but you can easily double it to feed a crowd and bake it in a 9×13 pan. 

MAKE-AHEAD FUNERAL POTATOES

You can make the cream of chicken soup up to four days ahead and parboil the potatoes up to 3 days ahead.

You can also make the entire dish, except for topping with breadcrumbs, up to three days ahead of time. Just spread into the casserole dish, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. When ready, uncover the casserole, sprinkle on the panko crumbs, and cook according the recipe.

I don’t recommend freezing the casserole, either baked or unbaked, since freezing and thawing could cause the fat to separate and the texture to become curdled.

MORE GREAT POTLUCK CASSEROLES

  • Chicken Noodle Casserole
  • Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole
  • Beef Noodle Casserole
  • Baked Ziti
  • Chorizo Mac and Cheese

Adapt this recipe to suit your time, needs, and preferences: frozen shredded potatoes can be substituted for fresh, and canned cream of chicken soup can be substituted for homemade.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes (about 3 large or 4 small potatoes)
  • 8 tablespoons of butter, divided
  • 1/2 large onion, finely chopped (about a cup)
  • 1/3 red bell pepper, finely chopped (about a 1/2 cup)
  • 2 cups homemade cream of chicken soup (store-bought will also work)
  • 2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2  cups panko bread crumbs

Method

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8×8 baking dish.

2 Parboil the potatoes: Scrub the potatoes clean, but leave the skins on. Place them in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Allow to boil for about 10 minutes.

Turn off heat and let the potatoes sit in the hot water for another 10 minutes. When ready, you should be able to pierce the potatoes with a fork, but still feel slight resistance. Drain the potatoes and set aside until cool enough to handle.

If making the potatoes ahead, cool to room temp, cover, and store in fridge for up to 3 days.

3 Meanwhile, cook the onions and peppers: In a medium skillet, melt 5 tablespoons butter, cook the onions and bell pepper until the onions are soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Set aside.

4 Peel and shred the potatoes: Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, score them along their equator with a paring knife. Twist each side in opposite directions to remove skin. The skin should pull off easily. If any bits of skin remain, trim them off with a knife.

Shred the potatoes using a food processor fitted with the shredder disk, or shred them by hand using the large holes on a cheese grater.

5 Assemble the casserole: Transfer shredded potatoes to a large bowl, and mix with the cooked onions, pepper, cream of chicken soup, cheddar cheese, sour cream, 1 teaspoon of salt, and pepper.

Stir until thoroughly combined. Spread into casserole dish.

6 Toast the breadcrumbs: In the same pan where you cooked the onions, melt remaining 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the panko and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Stir to coat.

Toast panko, stirring frequently, until it takes on a golden hue, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the potatoes.

7 Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes. When done, the potatoes should be bubbling around the edges, and the panko top will be golden.  

8 Cool for 10 minutes, then spoon onto plates.  

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Eggplant Parmesan

A classic Italian baked Eggplant Parmesan casserole with breaded eggplant slices layered with Mozzarella, Parmesan, basil, and tomato sauce.

Ready in:

  • Yield: Serves 8

Eggplant parmesan is one of those great Italian comfort foods—a layered casserole much like lasagna but with slices of globe eggplant taking the place of pasta.

The two things to keep in mind when cooking eggplant, especially firm globe eggplants, is that not only do eggplants hold onto moisture, they also absorb oil like a sponge. So if you’re not careful you can end up with something mushy and oily.

In this recipe, to tackle the first challenge we lightly salt the raw eggplant slices and let them sit out for a while. The salt helps draw moisture out of the eggplant.

To deal with the oil absorption issue, instead of frying the breaded eggplant slices, we bake them in the oven, before assembling the casserole to be baked again.

The result? Wonderful! Cheesy, tomato-y eggplant parmesan that doesn’t weigh you down with too much water or oil.

Inspired by a recipe in the New York Times by chef Gabrielle Hamilton, recounting a recipe from her Italian ex-mother-in-law.

First cut the eggplant and salt the eggplant rounds. Then prep the rest of the ingredients while the eggplant rounds are releasing their moisture.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 lbs (about 2 large) eggplants
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove minced garlic (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), tomatoes diced, reserve juices
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 4 eggs, beaten (more if needed)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more to oil the sheet pans)
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch slices

Method

1 Slice and salt eggplant, let drain: Slice the eggplants into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick rounds. Lay the eggplant slices out on a rack over a rimmed sheet pan (or on several layers of paper towels).

Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant rounds lightly with salt. Let the eggplant rounds sit and release moisture for 2 hours.

2 Sauté garlic, add tomatoes, simmer, add salt, pepper, basil: Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan on medium heat. Add the minced garlic and gently cook for 1 minute or until fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, breaking up the tomatoes as you add them to the pot. Increase heat to bring to a simmer, lower heat to maintain a very low simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the minced basil and remove from heat.

3 Make breadcrumb Parmesan mixture, set up bowls for dredging with flour, egg, breadcrumbs: Combine 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs with 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and place in a shallow bowl or rimmed dish.

Set up your station so that you have flour in one shallow bowl, beaten eggs in another bowl, and the breadcrumb cheese mixture in another, in that order.

4 Dredge eggplant rounds in flour, egg, breadcrumbs, top with olive oil: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spread a tablespoon of olive oil each over the bottom of two rimmed baking sheet pans. Pat dry the eggplant slices with paper towels.

Working one at a time dredge the eggplant slices first in the flour, then dip in the beaten eggs, and then dredge in the breadcrumb parmesan cheese mixture.

Place on oiled sheet pan. Drizzle a little oil over the top of each breaded eggplant round.

5 Bake eggplant rounds: Place breaded prepared eggplant slices in the oven. Cook for 18 to 20 minutes at 425°F, turning the slices over at the half-way point, until they are nicely browned. Remove from oven, and let cool to touch.

6 Layer sauce, eggplant rounds, cheeses in casserole dish: Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9×13-inch casserole dish. Place a third of the eggplant rounds in a single layer covering the sauce on the bottom of the pan.

 

Layer half of the sliced mozzarella on top of the eggplant rounds. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

Place another third of the eggplant rounds over the cheese. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the eggplant rounds. Layer the rest of the sliced mozzarella over the sauce. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of grated Parm.

Add the remaining eggplant in a single layer on top of the cheese. Top with the remaining sauce and the remaining Parmesan.

7 Bake: Bake uncovered at 350°F for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before cutting into to serve.

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