In our opinion, a golden-brown crust is the hallmark of an excellent casserole. It's the pièce de resistance, the finishing touch, that indefinable something that makes a casserole irresistible. There are many pantry ingredients that can help finish our casseroles with a flourish. Here are our favorites.
You don't really need a lot of topping to get good flavor and crunchiness. Just a sprinkling, enough for a little burst in every bite, is all you need. In fact, if we're trying to lighten up a casserole, concentrating on the topping is a good way to add flavor and texture without a lot of extra calories.
1. Breadcrumbs - A sprinkle of breadcrumbs is often all you need to give a casserole a little crunchy contrast. We like to mix them with a little melted butter or olive oil to help them turn golden and get even crispier.
2. Nuts - Pine nuts or chopped walnuts are one of our favorite toppings for grain-based casseroles. They bring out the earthy flavors in the dish and add an interesting texture.
3. Chow Mein Noodles - This is one is a holdover from childhood. You usually buy these cracker-like noodles in a can and just shake them over the top of the casserole at the last minute. They'll keep their crunch all through baking.
4. Thinly-sliced Caramelized Onions - Fried onions from a can were another feature of our childhood casseroles, but one that we haven't held onto like lo mein noodles! These days, we slice onions as thinly as possible and cook them until golden. Spread over the top of a casserole, the edges get toasted and crisped during baking.
5. Cheese - And of course, our good friend cheese! You can't really go wrong with cheese. Parmesan is one of our favorites, as it gives casseroles just the right touch of savory and salty. Mozzarella and other semi-soft cheeses melt into an even layer and bubble up with a few minutes under the broiler.
What are your favorite toppings for casseroles?
Related: Green Bean Casserole Upgrade! Fancy Fried Onions
(Images: Pasta Casserole/Faith Durand and Broccoli Casserole/Kathryn Hill)