Casseroles are my new favorite thing to make. Although they’re timeless, it seems they were quite popular in the middle part of the 20th century-casseroles are arguably the American culinary item of the Cold War. I love old cookbooks, and I’ve been trying all kinds of casserole recipes from vintage recipes over the last several months.
My favorite thing about casserole-cooking: it’s basically all about a formula. Once you make a lot of them, you kind of just get the various ratios of liquid to solid to binding agent, and can create your own spontaneous recipes, based on what vegetables and basics you have on hand-even leftovers, or that last remaining carrot in the bag.
If you are a vegetarian, or just want to create a substantial, inexpensive meal without meat, these following recipes are fabulous in that they are very basic formulas that turn out perfect casseroles every single time, regardless of the vegetables, or particular kind of basics used. They are now two of my family’s dinnertime staples, and favorites.
Below are the formulas, with notes about ingredients.
Basic Pasta Casserole Recipe
16 ounce bag of medium pasta shapes
26.5 ounce can (or jar) of pasta sauce
26.5 ounce can of liquid
1-3 cups vegetables
Optional: shredded cheese
Preheat oven at 400 degrees. Pour uncooked pasta into a medium to large casserole baking dish. Pour pasta sauce into the casserole. Fill the now-empty pasta sauce can with your chosen liquid, and pour it into the casserole dish as well. Stir the pasta mixture around so all the pasta is coated. Stir in the chopped vegetables. Cover, and place in 400 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until pasta is al dente or soft as desired. If you’d like a cheesy casserole, remove from oven about 10 minutes prior to completion, and top with shredded cheese. Place in oven until cheese is melted, slightly crusty, and pasta is cooked to taste..
Notes about ingredients
Water is a perfect and thriftiest choice for the liquid in this recipe. However, for added flavor, vegetable stock or bullion can be used. My favorite thing is using ½ can water and ½ can white wine. It’s not the most thrifty choice, but if you happen to have a little bit of leftover white wine just begging to be used, this is a fantastic opportunity.
A bit of (or even a lot!) of half and half is also nice along with the water-forming a very creamy, decadent casserole.
Once I used some a can of water, some vodka, and half and half, and the result was a traditional-tasting vodka sauce . Whatever liquids you choose, just stick to the formula-1 full can altogether. So, if you are using several types of liquids, pour them right into the pasta can/jar, so you know just how much you’re using.
As for the vegetables, anything goes. Some of our favorites have been zucchini, onion, elephant garlic, summer squash, mushrooms, and peas. Use just one vegetable, or combinations of different ones. The casserole is excellent with few or a lot of vegetables-hence the variance on the amount. It’s really up to you. It’s even ok to not use any vegetables at all! The formula does not rely on them for its consistency, but is only enhanced.
As for what type of pasta to use-again, anything works. I’ve used everything from macaroni to broken linguini noodles. Pasta shapes that have ridges or tube pastas hold the sauce nicely. A note here-regular pasta is all that is needed; there’s no need to find “no boil” noodles. Regular, everyday pasta bakes perfectly in the oven from its bagged state. The magic is in the casserole’s formula-all the liquid.
Also, I have been using Del Monte brand pasta sauce in a can, with fabulous results. I’d always used more expensive jarred brands, or even homemade sauces previously, but now I stick to Del Monte-say what you will about the thinner consistency or overall quality, but really, it works just perfect in this recipe. One nice thing is its price-I’ve been finding it at Big Lots for about $1.50 a can.
Basic Rice Casserole Recipe
2 cups uncooked rice
3 cups vegetables
Butter, margarine, or oil for greasing
Cook the rice and let cool a bit. While the rice is cooking, preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Lightly sauté the vegetables in a bit of olive oil. Grease a large casserole dish, and coat with bread crumbs. Coat evenly-this is going to serve as somewhat of a crust. With a fork or whisk, lightly beat 6 eggs in a large mixing bowl.
Add the sautéed vegetables, and the slightly cooled rice. Stir well, coating all the rice and incorporating all the vegetables uniformly. If you are using cheese, mix in at this stage, using all or part (perhaps saving some for the top. ) Season to taste.
Pour rice-egg mixture into the greased and bread crumbed casserole dish. Cover, and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. If desired, remove from oven at about 35 minutes, and top with cheese. Place casserole back in oven for the remainder of cooking time.
Notes on ingredients
Everything I’ve added vegetable-wise has been just perfect. Artichoke hearts, shredded Brussel sprouts, onions, peas, corn, olives, garlic, asparagus, zucchini, even potato-are just sublime. If you’ll be using harder vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, celery, or the like, saute them a bit longer, so they are almost, but not properly softened. If you are using already cooked vegetables, skip the sauteeing altogether.
I’m convinced this is the most perfect casserole recipe on the planet. If you can’t imagine the result-it’s sturdy yet light, almost cakelike. It dishes out somewhat like a quiche. It’s got an overall Italian feel. For some reason, green vegetables really go well with it. About the rice–I’ve tried several types: jasmine, basmati, basic white rice, and brown. It’s all great, but is particularly good with basmati.
I’ve tried it with and without cheese, and it’s good either way. Gorgonzola, parmesean, even Swiss-it was all great. One thing about this casserole-it is even better as leftovers. Not sure why-maybe it has to to with the melding of flavors into the rice. It’s so good. We eat it with a little vinegar based hot sauce-just goes with the otherwise mild texture and flavors. You’ll see!