Warm crisp autumn days with a casserole

Satisfying dish is a classic comfort food that’s simple to make and bake on a chilly fall day

    As the crisp autumn air takes over, casseroles provide a simple way to warm families while offering a tasty meal.
    While they are typically made for dinner, breakfast casseroles add a warm touch to the early part of the day.
    Typically made with meat, vegetables and a starch, such as potatoes or pasta, bound with sauce or soup and topped with crumbs or cheese, casseroles take little time to whip up and warm not just the body but the soul with their tantalizing aroma.
    You can easily vary the flavor by changing one or two ingredients. Instead of beef, use chicken. If you have broccoli but not carrots, use the broccoli. Vary the starch between pasta, rice and potatoes.
    If you want to make your casserole a healthier dish, use a seasoned white sauce or low-fat cream soup to help bind the ingredients.
    To promote even cooking, cut the ingredients to about the same size.
    To add flavor and seal in juices, brown the meat or chicken. Make sure to coat the meat in flour just before cooking. If you coat it too early, the moisture in the meat can absorb the flour, spoiling the texture of the casserole.
    Add the vegetables, liquids and herbs after the meat is browned.
    Only fill your casserole dish about three-quarters full, otherwise the liquid may overflow.
    Most casseroles are baked in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes. Many casseroles are covered initially, then uncovered for the last 20 minutes or so to create a crusty, browned top layer.
    If you’re making one casserole, think about making a second and freezing it for a later date. Just make sure to use it within a month or two.
    Casseroles can be frozen cooked or uncooked in its baking dish. You can line the baking dish with foil, leaving enough foil hanging over the edges to cover and wrap the casserole.
    Place the casserole ingredients in the dish and freeze it. Once frozen, use the foil to lift the casserole out of the dish. Cover the casserole with the overhanging foil, then place it in a heavy-duty freezer bag and seal. When you want to bake it, place the casserole in its original dish and allow to thaw in the refrigerator or bake it frozen, doubling the amount of time in the oven.
    Following are some casserole recipes from epicurious.com.



Smoky Bacon Mac

1/2 pound dried elbow pasta
1 pound sliced bacon
2 cups mac sauce
1 cup grated smoked cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Jack cheese
For mac sauce:
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

    To make mac sauce, heat whole milk over medium heat three to four minutes, until it just starts to bubble but is not boiling. Remove from heat.
    Heat butter in a heavy-bottomed pot, then add flour and whisk constantly about three minutes, until it turns light brown. Remove from heat. Slowly pour in warm milk, one cup at a time, whisking constantly. Set pot over medium-high heat and whisk another two to three minutes, until it’s silky and thick. Dip a metal spoon into the sauce, and if the sauce coats the spoon and doesn’t slide off like milk, it’s ready. Add salt and stir.
    To make casserole, cook pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.
    Cook bacon in a frying pan over high heat about eight minutes, until crispy. Remove extra grease by patting strips with a paper towel, then cut into bite-size pieces.
    Add sauce and both cheeses to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cook about three minutes over medium heat, stirring until the cheese is barely melted. Add bacon and stir to combine. Slowly add cooked pasta, stir, and continue cooking five minutes, stirring continuously, until hot.
    Spoon into bowls and serve hot.


Bacon and Egg Casserole

1 14 or 17-ounce box of puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
All-purpose flour
14 large eggs
9 strips bacon
1 large onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 ounces baby spinach

    If using 14-ounce package of puff pastry with one sheet, roll pastry into an 18-by-13-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Cut in half crosswise; reserve one piece for another use. If using 17-ounce package with two sheets of pastry, roll one sheet into a 13-by-9-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Reserve remaining sheet for another use. Cut pastry lengthwise parallel to 13-inch side into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Transfer strips to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and chill.
    Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add six eggs, cover and cook seven minutes. Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water and let cool completely. Peel eggs.
    Working in batches, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, turning occasionally, until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels, then transfer bacon fat to a small bowl. Let bacon cool, then coarsely chop.
    Heat two teaspoons bacon fat in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and turns translucent.
    Grease a 13-by-9-inch pan with one tablespoon bacon fat. Discard remaining fat or reserve for another use.
    Whisk eight eggs in a large bowl. Add cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg and two cups cream. Whisk to combine. Add potato, spinach, onion and chopped bacon and stir to combine. Pour into prepared pan. Cut cooked eggs in half lengthwise and arrange over filling, then press down so top edge of egg is even with top of filling.
    Arrange chilled dough strips lengthwise, one inch apart on the diagonal, trimming to fit flush against edge of pan. Use trimmed dough on shorter sides. Lay more strips over arranged strips in the other direction, creating a lattice-like design. Brush dough with remaining cream with a small pastry brush.
    Bake casserole in a 350-degree oven for 50 to 55 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until pastry is deep golden brown and cooked through. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.
Do Ahead


Tuscan Lasagna

1 pound 85% lean ground beef
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
1/2 cup minced white onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup low-fat ricotta
1 8-ounce package whole-grain lasagna noodles
16 ounces low-sodium marinara sauce
1/2 cup part-skim fresh mozzarella
2 cups thawed frozen spinach
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

    In a large pan over medium heat, cook beef, mushrooms, onion, garlic, parsley, salt, basil, Italian seasoning, fennel seeds and pepper about 12 minutes, until beef is browned. Transfer to a bowl and stir in ricotta.
    Cook noodles as directed on package. Drain and rinse with cold water. In an 8-by- 11-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray, place a layer of noodles. Top with one third of the meat mixture, one third of the marinara and one third of the mozzarella. Repeat to create two more layers. Before the last layer, scatter spinach. Top with Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 minutes more. Cool 10 minutes before serving.


Parmesan Bread Pudding With Broccoli Rabe and Pancetta

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 medium bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 large eggs
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 pound country-style white bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
6 thin slices pancetta

Preheat oven to 350°F.
    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and stir about 30 seconds, until garlic is softened. Add broccoli rabe and season with salt and pepper. Cook two minutes, tossing, until wilted. Let cool slightly.
    Whisk eggs, milk, two teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Add broccoli rabe mixture, bread, and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Toss to combine. Transfer to a 1-1/2-quart baking dish. Top with pancetta and remaining Parmesan.
    Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until puffed, browned in spots, and set in the center.
    Makes four to six servings.


Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Skillet

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 16-ounce jar medium red salsa
1/2 cup sour cream, plus more for serving
4 corn tortillas, torn into quarters
4 cups shredded cooked rotisserie chicken 1 15.5-ounce can black beans, drained, rinsed
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
Pickled jalapeños and cilantro, optional

    Heat oil in a 10-inch heatproof skillet over medium. Add onion, garlic, cumin and salt and cook five minutes, stirring, until softened.
    Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add salsa, 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup water and stir to combine. Fold in tortillas, chicken and beans until thoroughly coated. Return mixture to skillet and cook three minutes over medium heat, until warmed through. Sprinkle cheese over. top
    Transfer skillet to 500-degree oven and bake about five minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbling. Top with sour cream, jalapeños, and cilantro, if desired.
    Makes four to six servings.


Spicy Baked Pasta With Cheddar and Broccoli Rabe

Kosher salt
1 pound rigatoni, ziti or fusilli
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced into half-moons
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 bunches broccoli rabe or 3 bunches baby broccolini, trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces sharp white cheddar, coarsely grated
1 cup chopped chives
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs or panko

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add a generous amount of salt. Cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until just barely al dente, about two minutes less than package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
    Heat 5 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium–high heat. Add leeks and season with salt and black pepper. Cook eight to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until leeks are softened and starting to brown.
    Add red pepper flakes to leeks and stir to incorporate. Add broccoli rabe by the handful, stirring to combine and allowing each addition to wilt before adding more. Season with salt and black pepper. Once all of the broccoli rabe has been added, cook two minutes, stirring occasionally, until bright green and wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.
    Add pasta to reserved broccoli rabe mixture along with cream, three-quarters of the cheese, 1/2 cup chives, and reserved pasta cooking liquid and mix well. Season with salt and black pepper. Add more red pepper flakes if desired.
    Transfer pasta to a 3-quart baking dish. Toss breadcrumbs and remaining oil in a medium bowl until coated. Season with salt and black pepper. Scatter over pasta, then sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 30 to 25 minutes, until pasta is bubbling across the surface and breadcrumbs are deep golden brown. Let cool slightly.
    Scatter remaining chives over pasta just before serving.
    Makes six to eight servings.



Baked French Toast With Pecan Crumble

For French toast:
1-pound loaf challah, sliced 1-inch thick
Unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
For pecan crumble and assembly:
1/2 cup pecans
2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Blackberry syrup

    For french toast, spread bread on a rimmed baking sheet and let stand overnight.
    Cut bread so slices are similar in size and arrange, overlapping, in rows in a buttered 13-by-9-inch baking dish.
    Whisk eggs, egg yolks, cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl. Pour over bread, pressing bread to help it soak up custard. Cover and chill at least two hours.
    Pulse pecans, butter, brown sugar and salt in a food processor until nuts are coarsely chopped. Scatter pecan crumble over soaked bread. Place dish on a rimmed baking sheet and cover tightly with foil. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until warmed through and a knife inserted into the center feels warm to the touch. Remove foil and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until deeply browned. Let cool slightly before serving with blackberry syrup.
    Bread can be soaked one day ahead and kept chilled. Pecan mixture can be made one day ahead and kept covered and chilled.


BLT Casserole

12 ounces crusty Italian or country-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 head romaine, washed, dried well, cut into 1-inch slices
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped chives, optional

    Spread bread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 inches, tossing once, until dry to the touch and slightly toasted. Cool slightly.
    Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fat starts to render and bacon browns. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a small bowl, reserving three tablespoons fat.
    Whisk eggs, stock, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and two tablespoons bacon fat in a large bowl. Add bread and gently toss to combine. Add bacon and tomatoes and stir to combine. Let sit about 15 minutes, until bread has absorbed most of the liquid.
    Add lettuce to bread mixture and stir to combine. Transfer mixture to a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and bake in 325-degree oven about 45 minutes, until top is golden brown. Brush surface with remaining bacon fat, turn broiler on and continue baking three to five minutes, until tops of bread are glistening and well toasted. Garnish with chives, if using, and serve immediately.
    Makes six servings.




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