You know you love a good casserole; I certainly do! They come in many guises: lasagna, mac ‘n’ cheese, enchiladas, pasta bakes, stratas — and to me, they are dinnertime gold. Sure, I’m a dairy fanatic, and most casserole recipes seem to be built around some sort of cheese, which I don’t hate. But the defining factor of a casserole is that it can be assembled in a one-dish meal (with carb, protein, and veg all happily coexisting) and baked to a very satisfying conclusion, with melty cheese, crunchy top, and a general coziness that says, “Take that, winter!”
Best of all, we’ve gone beyond the casseroles of yesteryear, with their reliance on canned soups, “Helping Hands,” and pre-fab mixes. I’ve culled recipes that fit the modern casserole sensibility from some of my favorite food bloggers and websites. What are you waiting for? Time’s a-wasting!
There’s all kinds of delicious happening here, a revamping of the “healthy” broccoli and cheese casserole of the ‘70s, which was made with frozen broccoli florets, a can of mushroom soup, and loads of cheddar, if memory serves. Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman gives it a heartier base with wild rice pilaf, quickly blanched fresh broccoli, and a cheddar cheese sauce you’ll unabashedly eat straight from the spoon. Fifteen minutes in the oven, and out it pops: hot and bubbly, with a crispy top crust. Get in my belly! Get the recipe from Smitten Kitchen.
Oh, Molly, you tater tot temptress! What if there was a mashup of chicken pot pie and a Minnesota hotdish? There is now, and Yeh proves that anything is improved with the addition of everyone’s favorite freezer product. Is there a man, woman, or child who isn’t a tot fan? On that we can all agree. Yeh starts with a homemade, chicken soup- and onion-reinforced béchamel sauce, adds carrots, cubes of boneless, skinless chicken thigh (which keep it juicy), peas, and herbs, then pours the mixture into a casserole dish, topping it with frozen tots, which crisp in the oven and make life a better place. Make this tonight and thank me later. Get the recipe from My Name is Yeh.
Be reasonable, people. You can’t expect me to write a piece about casseroles and not include a lasagna recipe. But have you ever had a pumpkin béchamel? It’s a genius idea, right? Add in a little still-on-trend kale (it’s not going away, OK?), some Italian sausage (I like to use turkey Italian sausage, and sometimes even sub in the hot variety for half of the sausage called for in the recipe), and layer it with ricotta, noodles, and mozzarella in a lasagna pan, and that is a dish that is very much calorie-worthy. Get the recipe from Food 52.
Pinch of yum? More like a whole handful. It doesn’t get much better than buttery brioche, because, as Pinch of Yum blogger Lindsay Ostrom so eloquently suggests, “Carbs are life.” So why not show your family and/or friends some love with this golden casserole filled with ricotta, eggs, honey, fresh berries, and brioche dough? She even lets you off the hook and says you can substitute store-bought, premade biscuit dough, but you get the feeling that she really, really wants you to make the fresh dough. And you know what? YOU CAN DO THIS (#brunchgoals). Get the recipe from Pinch of Yum.
Vegans, no need to be left out in the cold! Blogger Sarah Britton has it all figured out: Her “Mac ‘n’ Tease” packs a lot of great flavor into this recipe, and the sauce will fool you into believing that she snuck some cheese in the dish. But no! It’s a trick of the tongue, craftily combining butternut squash, cooked butter beans, plant-based milk, and nutritional yeast to fine effect. The crunch comes from a crumble topping made with sunflower seeds, more of that nutritional yeast, and spices. This would be a terrific vegan entrée for Thanksgiving if you’re in the market for such a thing. Get the recipe from My New Roots.
You’ll be living the dream with this “enlightened” casserole, easily thrown together in your crockpot around noon, and ready six hours later. Boneless chicken breasts combine with broth, quinoa (see? HEALTHY!), green chiles, corn, black beans, Mexican spices, and some enchilada sauce to create magic. Shred the cooked chicken, stir, top with cheese, and let it melt; garnish with avocado and tomato. I recommend a mixed green salad with orange slices, pickled red onion, and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) on the side. Easy, but more importantly, tasty. Get the recipe from Damn Delicious.
Armed with a casserole and a spiralizer, it’s time to revamp Taco Tuesday. This recipe is the love child of chilaquiles and nachos, with sweet potatoes and taco seasoning added in for good measure. There’s plenty of veggies up in here, enough to make you feel, dare I say, virtuous … that is, until the tortilla chips and two kinds of cheese make an appearance. But what self-respecting casserole omits the cheese? Just remember all of the fiber you’re ingesting, and all will be fine. Get the recipe from The Pioneer Woman.
In my opinion, this dish is a serious contender for the Thanksgiving table. It has an old-timey corn casserole feel, but updated with the addition of paprika, a handful of fresh chopped sage, and some finely shredded Parmesan. You make the whole thing in a skillet (with the exception of whisking the egg custard ingredients together in a mixing bowl or large measuring cup), so it couldn’t be easier, and the cast-iron skillet gives it a rustic appeal. Did I mention it is topped with a delicious crown of melted cheese? Case closed. Get the recipe from Serious Eats.
Now go make one of these recipes — and make family dinner a priority!
Did you know that regular family dinners have the capacity to provide a host of important benefits to you and your family? It’s true! They include:
- Healthier eating habits
- Decreased consumption of sodas, fried foods and trans fats
- Increased vocabulary and literacy skills in children
- Better grades and improved peer relationships at school
- Higher satisfaction in parents’ relationships
- Decreased risk behaviors in teens, such as alcohol and drug use, eating disorders and teen pregnancy
- Lower incidence of depression and anxiety in both children and adults
So make one of these easy, elegant recipes, and check out these five tips for making regular family dinners a priority!
More from Make It Better:
- 8 Must-Try Chocolate Desserts Around Chicago
- 7 Healthy, Seasonal Squash Recipes for Every Varietal
- 10 Ethnic Restaurants Around Chicago to Visit Right Now
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.