Casseroles are making the Dinner Party rounds this season

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When I was a child my Mother almost never made casseroles. We had red meat at least 4 times a week, roast chicken one night, went out for Chinese one night and of course wasn’t Prince spaghetti day every Wednesday? My friends growing up had casseroles for dinner. Some had cheese and stove top stuffing mix and some had tuna fish and cream of mushroom soup. I suppose if you count the Thanksgiving green bean casserole we did have a casserole grace our buffet table every November. When my son was young he used to beg me to buy Hamburger Helper (God Forbid). He claimed his other friends got to eat casseroles and why did we have to eat steak and veal and grilled swordfish all the time. I guess that is a generational yearning in all children.

It is not that I personally have anything against a casserole. I do not like leftovers, and a casserole always seemed a way of disguising bits and pieces. My Aunt Helen used to make a casserole she called Spanish Rice. It was cooked white rice, browned ground sirloin, minced onions and green peppers and Campbell’s tomato soup. I often used that recipe for the filling of stuffed peppers, with a touch of oregano and crushed red pepper.

In the past two years however, casseroles have made a monumental come back. A throw to yesteryear I suppose and certainly a sensible “all in one meal” during a difficult economic time. Last year, tuna noodle casserole made appearances in penthouse dining rooms in Manhattan and Chicago, green peas and crumbled potato chips and all.

This year look for more sophisticated dishes that use cream cheese, wild mushrooms and higher quality meats such as pancetta and ground veal. While I am not totally sold on making casseroles a mainstay for any dinner party, I do have a few delicious recipes to share.

Classic Turkey Divan

Adapted from 300 best Casserole recipes Cookbook

1 ½ pounds broccoli chopped

¼ cup butter

¼ cup all purpose flour

1 ½ cups chicken broth

Pinch ground nutmeg

½ cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon sherry

3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

½ cup freshly grated aged cheddar cheese

6 slices cooked turkey breast (chicken works fine as well)

In a large pit of boiling salted water, cook broccoli for 4 minutes until tender crisp. Drain

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1-2 minutes. Gradually stir in hot chicken broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg and gently stir in cream, sherry and half of the cheeses.

Place broccoli in baking dish. Top with sliced turkey. Pour sauce over turkey and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Place pan under broiled until bubbly brown. Serve right away on buttered noodles or wild rice.

Aunt Helen’s Spanish rice This is my Aunt Helen’s recipe. She made it extra well done on top and I still remember fighting with my siblings for the crustiest edges. It is inexpensive and tasteful and makes the perfect filling for stuffed peppers for another night- talk about a budget meal!

1-pound ground beef

Garlic salt to taste

1 pinch celery salt

3 cups cooked white rice, chilled (I make it the night before)

2 cans Campbell’s tomato soup

1 green pepper diced

1 onion diced

2 stalks celery diced

Ground black pepper and kosher salt to taste

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Heat large sauté pan and brown ground beef. Drain extra grease and add onions, peppers, celery and seasoning and simmer about 4 minutes until veggies are tender. Remove from heat. Stir in large bowl with cooked white rice and tomato soup. Mix well and adjust seasoning. Pour into greased casserole dish and bake at 375 degrees until brown and bubbly. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Culinary Director

As the Culinary Director for ABC 7, I whip up cooking segments on ABC 7 News at Noon, along with recipes, cooking tips, reviews and great food finds on MySuncoast Dining at