How To Elevate A Delicious, Flexible Midwest Classic: The Casserole

Casseroles Are Versatile Meals, Learn To Tailor To Your Own Tastes

A casserole dish is partially visible on the right side with some of the casserole scooped on to a plate to be served.
Tuna Noodle Casserole. Photo Provided by Megan Hill of Culinary Hill

For many in the Midwest, the humble casserole (or is it hot dish?) is a staple weeknight meal — it’s quick, affordable and can feed a crowd. Not to mention it’s warm and gooey characteristics can have healing effects during long, cold winters.

Whether you call it a casserole or hot dish, one of the most appealing parts of the comforting meal is that you can make it out of basically anything you have around — and there’s freedom to improvise, said Meggan Hill, executive chef and head of Culinary Hill Test Kitchen.

“Look at the amount of meat and vegetable in a recipe … but if you don’t like (what it calls for) or don’t have them, you can use whatever you want,” she said. “Clean out the crisper and make the casserole of your dreams.”

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Hill’s favorite casserole to make is a classic tuna noodle casserole. While she prefers to make her own roux to have more control over the flavor of the sauce, canned works just fine, too.

“The most important thing about that is you need to taste it before you build your casserole, because if your sauce is not seasoned properly … the saddest thing that I could think is that somebody might have a bland casserole,” Hill said.

The sauce is your opportunity to tailor the casserole to your own taste, she said. If you like some heat, shake a few dashes of hot sauce in, or if you like an earthier flavor, add your favorite herbs.

“Make sure that you use enough salt and pepper and whatever else you think would make it taste good,” she said. “If it’s in the pot and you taste it and it tastes delicious, then you know you’re on track.”

Hill then likes to top her casserole with Ritz crackers for a buttery crunch. Cornflakes, breadcrumbs or potato chips also work well.

One of Hill’s favorite casseroles makes the morning hours smoother: overnight breakfast casserole. This savory casserole layers ham, cheese and bread, combined with an egg and milk mixture, and is flavored with dill, parsley and mustard.

The casserole sits overnight so the bread softens, then right before baking sprinkle the top with a cornflake and butter mixture.

“I used to host a lot of brunches and I’d have parties just so I could make this,” Hill said. “You could vary this depending on the bread you used, you could switch up different breakfast meats. I could see this going a lot of different ways.”

“That’s what I love about casseroles, there’s so much flexibility,” she continued.

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