Enter the real reason casseroles took center stage: they are a terrific use for leftovers. Rather than cooking everything the day you plan to make the casserole, start getting creative with your leftovers:
- leftover chili topped with cornbread batter and baked according to the cornbread directions
- leftover cooked bean dish, leftover cooked chicken, leftover cooked rice, appropriate cheese and seasonings thrown in--voila.
- leftover cooked pasta, leftover cooked meat (ham, chicken, and bacon are good contenders here), some dairy (cottage cheese, shredded cheese, sour cream, anything really), some veggies of choice (peas are a great option)--this is probably how macaroni and cheese, lasagna, and baked rigatoni got their start!
Good rules of thumb (for a 13x9-inch size):
- 2 cups cooked protein
- 2 cups shredded cheese
- 2-3 cups cooked rice or other grain
- 8 oz. to 16 oz. cooked pasta
- sauteed onions (and celery and/or carrots) do a lot to improve bland leftovers
- suit your spices/herbs to the general ethnicity of your "stuff": cumin/cayenne/oregano/cilantro for Mexican/Latin flavors, basil/oregano/rosemary/thyme for Italian/European flavors, cumin/coriander/curry for Middle Eastern, basil/oregano/lemon/fennel for Greek/Mediterranean, etc. Just sprinkle some in :).
- 1-2 cups veggies--suit your veggies to the cuisine: corn/black or pinto beans/bell peppers/chilies for Mexican/Latin flavors, white beans/tomatoes/bell peppers/spinach for Italian/European flavors, cauliflower/lentils/potatoes/spinach for Middle Eastern, tomatoes/bell peppers/white beans/zucchini for Greek/Mediterranean, etc. (Cook long-cooking vegetables at least partially first: onions, beans, etc.)
- When in doubt, bake at 350 degrees for about a half an hour, or until bubbly and brown. If you're topping the casserole with cheese, either cover it or wait to put the cheese on until the end. Pop back into the oven to melt/brown the cheese.
- pair with a side of fresh veggies, baked sweet potatoes, or a simple salad and you're done!
What casserole creations are your family's favorites?