Once you have my formula for casseroles you’ll be making them all the time. Here’s why.

C’mon you say…casseroles are ancient food! No one wants to eat that! Certainly not all the time! 

Hear me out. First off, you eat casseroles all the time alread, you just don’t know it. Macaroni and cheese, lasagna, baked ziti, gratins, even stratas….they are all casseroles. I bet you’d love to eat any of these French casseroles, just so long as no one mentions the C word (casserole). So pommes Anna or gratin Dauphinois are cool: hot dish or tuna casserole are not. 

So you like casseroles, you just think they are outdated. Well I am here to show you that casseroles are fantastic and you will want to learn my formula for making them. Once you do, you can turn almost anything into a casserole. Give it a fancy name like “chicken with wild grains in a supreme sauce” vs “chicken rice casserole” and you’re ready to feed your guests!

My formula to turn anything into a casserole is this: 

  • 1 1/4 cups of liquid + 2 1/2 cups of stuff + 1/2 cup of topping (optional) fills a 1 quart baking dish = 9 x 6 x 2 baking dish
  • 2 1/2 cups of liquid + 5 cups of stuff + 1 cup of topping (optional) fills a 2 quart baking dish = 8 x 8 x 2 baking dish
  • 5 cups of liquid + 10 cups of stuff + 2 cups of topping (optional) fills a 3.5 quart baking dish = 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish

I have a 1 quart Staub oval dish that is 9 x 6 x 2 and I will use that often. Figure out how much capacity your baking dish has and go from there.  (Regardless, I recommend the be at least 2 inches high though. FYI: 8 x 8 x 2 is 8 inches by 8 inches by 2.)

In terms of stuff, my formula is stuff = cooked meat + cooked grains + vegetables. Maybe some cheese….some grated cheese or some blocks of feta can go in there too. I typically like a mixture of leftover meats, cooked or uncooked veg and cooked rice. So I might have 2 cups of chicken, 1.5 cups of rice, and 1.5 cups of chopped up veg. Or I might go with 2 cups of cooked meats, 1 cup of pasta and 2 cups of vegetables. I like the combination of meat and veg and carbs, but if you want to do just all carbs/pasta or just all veg, then do that. The stuff in mac n cheese is just cooked macaroni and cheese (and a white sauce for liquid). Heck it could be all meat, almost like a tourtiere! It’s your party.

As for liquid, my favorite is a sauce supreme. To make it, I make a roux with 1/4 cup of butter or margarine and 1/3 cup of flour. Then I add 1 1/2 cups of milk and thicken it over a medium low heat. Then I add 1 cup of stock. Once it goes from liquid to a bit thick, I take it off the heat and season it with salt and pepper. I sometimes like to add 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard and 1/4 teaspoon of thyme. But do what feels good to you. You could use paprika or sumac instead of dried mustard. You could use an herb blend like herbs de provence or some other herb like oregano or tarragon.

Another form of liquid is a cheese sauce. To make that, make a roux of 1/4 cup of butter and 1/4 cup of flour. Add 2 cups of milk (no stock) until thick. Take it off the heat and add 3 cups of grated cheese (or less if you want it less cheesy, but why would you want that?)

Can you use pasta sauce? Indeed! If I had tiny meatballs and grated mozzarella and cooked pasta for stuff, then pasta sauce could be perfect. Crushed tomatoes or salsa could also work, depending on what your were going for in terms of overall flavour. I haven’t used coconut milk yet but I think the combination of it and some curry paste could make for an incredible casserole. 

Once you have your stuff and our sauce, combine them in a bowl, or in the casserole if that’s how your roll, and smooth it all out. At this point our want to add your topping.

Topping! My favorite way to make 1 cup of topping is to put 1 cup of breadcrumbs in a bowl, pour 1 tbsp of melted butter over that, and mix it up. Then sprinkle it over the top of our casserole mix so everything is covered. If you want to make it extra tasty, sprinkle some extra dried herb or spices on top of that. Or finely grate some hard cheese (parm?) on top. You could even add some lemon or lime zest. Sesame seeds are lovely too. 

From there, add it to your oven that’s at  350 F and cook for 30-40 minutes until it is golden (like above).

Can you riff on the formula? Of course! You can change all the ingredients. You can even tweak the formula and ratio, but generally I have found that is a really good one. If you have only a little liquid, try and use less stuff and less topping. If you have no topping, you can skip it (although that would be shame).

As for what to accompany it, with all that filling, you don’t really need anything else. Maybe a green salad. Perhaps some dinner roles or naan to soak up any of the liquid. But just by itself on a plate your casserole dish is fantastic.

The sky’s the limit in terms of what to drink with a casserole. A simple glass of white goes with most of them, though a dairy based drink could be good. Also beer or cider could do well. Suit yourself. Dig in!

P.S.  I’ve been thinking about casseroles ever since I read this: 6 Easy Steps to a Customizable Casserole | by Mark Bittman. It’s great, of course, but for me I need something of a formula / ratio to get it right. That said, he has so many ideas on how to riff on the recipe, I’ll just send you there rather than copying and pasting them all.

Can you use cans of soup for your casserole? Can you break out a can of Cream of Mushroom for the “liquid”? Well sure, you CAN. (Pun intended.) But try and make your own sauce. For more help with that, see this: Sauces vs. Soups for Casseroles. It can even help you replicate a can of cream of celery or mushroom.

If you are a huge biscuit fan, you could go with a biscuit topping like this:chicken and biscuit cassarole. Fancy!

Need some more ideas? Chatelaine has some great casseroles here. Take a look: French onion macaroni and cheese recipe (incredible), and Easy one-pan lasagna recipe, not to mention this Modern Tuna Casserole (next level).  Steal their ideas.

Food & Wine has more “homey hearty” casserole ideas for dinner here and some breakfast casseroles here.

Finally, here’s the Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles. It’s a good look back on casseroles. But after that, no looking back. Only ahead. Here’s to casseroles, our next great meal.

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