Easy to make and comforting to eat, winter casseroles are perfect with a crusty bread on the side to sop up leftover sauce. What makes these recipes so successful are simple ingredients—basic cuts of meats and everyday vegetables. Slow cooked all day, prepared the night before or made ahead and frozen, casseroles are a welcome ally in a busy household.
Photo by Iuliia Nedrygailova
HEARTY BEEF STEW
4 pounds beef chuck, cut into 3-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 carrots, peeled and sliced bite-size
4 celery stalks, sliced bite-size
4 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled (not minced)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup all-purpose flour
2½ cups red wine (optional)
2½ cups beef stock (or 5 cups if not using wine)
1 pound shallots, peeled and left whole
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1½ pounds baby white potatoes, unpeeled
Preheat oven to 350 F. Season meat with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the meat chunks on all sides until brown. Transfer to a platter.
To the same pan, add carrots and celery, and saute until translucent, about 5–8 minutes. Add garlic, and saute an additional 1–2 minutes. Return meat to the pan, along with any drippings, and add tomato paste. Sprinkle flour over the mixture, and stir to combine. Add the wine; stir, and scrape bottom of the pan. Cook 3–5 minutes, until mixture starts to thicken. Add beef stock, shallots and bay leaves; stir, and bring to a boil. Add thyme. Cover and transfer to preheated oven. Bake 2 hours. Add potatoes for the last 45 minutes of cooking. Remove thyme sprigs, bay leaves and garlic before serving.
EASY MEATBALL LASAGNA
Photo by Karen Hermann
9 lasagna noodles, cooked
Meatballs (store-bought or homemade, enough to cover bottom of casserole dish), cut in half
3 cups marinara sauce, store-bought or homemade
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh basil leaves
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, cook noodles according to directions. Drain, and rinse well with cold water.
In the bottom of an 8-inch-by-8-inch casserole dish, spread ½ cup sauce. Cut 3 noodles to fit casserole, and lay over sauce. Cover noodles with half the meatballs, 1 cup sauce, 1 cup mozzarella and ¼ cup Parmesan. Continue with another layer of noodles, meatballs, sauce and cheeses. Finish with a layer of noodles, remaining ½ cup of sauce and ¼ cup Parmesan. Cover with foil. (At this point, lasagna can be frozen and saved. Allow to defrost thoroughly before cooking.)
Bake 45 minutes. Uncover, and cook an additional 30 minutes or until lasagna bubbles along sides of dish. Allow to set 30 minutes before serving. Sprinkle top with chopped basil to serve.
CHICKEN POT PIE
Photo by Gina Moore
2 bone-in and skin-on chicken breasts, baked
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 carrots, peeled, halved and sliced diagonally
3 celery stalks, sliced diagonally
½ cup all-purpose flour
1½ cups chicken stock
1½ cups milk
½ tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup sherry (optional)
1 cup pearl onions
1 cup button mushrooms, whole
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 cup green peas, frozen or fresh
1 9-inch piecrust, store-bought (refrigerated) or homemade
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 400 F. Remove skin and bones from chicken breast, and shred meat. Set aside. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 6 tablespoons butter. Saute carrots and celery until translucent, about 5–8 minutes. Sprinkle with flour, and stir. Whisk in stock, then milk. Reduce heat to low; simmer about 10 minutes, until thickened, stirring frequently. Add chicken, thyme, sherry, onions, mushrooms, parsley, salt, pepper and peas. Stir until well blended.
Grease a deep-dish, 9-inch, round baking dish with butter. Pour chicken mixture into dish. Cover with piecrust; fold under any excess dough, and crimp around the sides. Make a small slit in the middle of the crust. Using a pastry brush, brush the crust with the egg wash. Bake 25 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.
White pepper or black pepper? – To the average palate, there’s no difference in taste between black and white pepper. White pepper is often used in white sauces, soups and gravies, only because it looks more appealing than small, black specks floating in a light-colored sauce or broth.
CHEESY POTATO-AND-SAUSAGE CASSEROLE
Photo by Michael Phillips
4–5 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ to 1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound smoked sausage or kielbasa
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2–3 green onions, chopped, with white bottoms separated from green tops
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups milk
½ Gruyere cheese, diced (or any melting cheese)
½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large saucepan over medium heat, place potatoes, ½ to 1 teaspoon salt and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook 10 minutes, or until fork tender but not falling apart. Drain. Grease a medium-sized casserole dish with 1 tablespoon butter, and add cooked potatoes.
Cut sausage in half lengthwise and then into ½-inch pieces. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Cook sausage until brown, about 10–12 minutes; drain and add to potatoes. In the same pan, add bell pepper and the white part of onions, and saute 3–5 minutes. Add to potatoes. Toss potatoes, sausage and vegetables to combine.
In a large sauce pan over medium heat, melt remaining butter, and whisk in flour. Cook 2–3 minutes while whisking. Slowly whisk in milk, and continue whisking until the mixture thickens. Add Gruyere, and whisk until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.
Pour sauce over potato-sausage mixture, and sprinkle with cheddar cheese and crushed red pepper. Bake 30–35 minutes, until golden on top. Remove from oven, and garnish with green tops of onions.
Salt and potatoes – When cooking potatoes, use a little more salt than is called for in the recipe. Potatoes absorb salt at a higher rate, which is why they sometimes taste bland. Likewise, if you are cooking a dish that seems a little too salty for your taste, add a few potatoes to it for the duration of the cooking process. The potatoes will absorb the excess salt.