I love casseroles! They are the perfect food for the gray days of winter — homey, comforting, simple and so nourishing. I frequently turn to a casserole idea when feeding a crowd (make–ahead is the only way to go when entertaining), and I always find myself using at least three or four of my tried and true add–ins.
Do you have any go–to additions to your casserole–making? I'd love to hear about them.
1. Fresh herbs. A sprinkling of fresh herbs goes a long way to cutting some of the richness that usually accompanies a hearty casserole. I try to use an herb that compliments the dish, something you would find within that country's cuisine already. For example, I might adorn a tamale pie with cilantro and a lasagna with slivers of basil.
2. Tofu. I sneak tofu into almost all my casseroles. Most people don't notice it's there (and I don't mention it). It helps the casserole set up in the sense that it adds firmness without introducing a new flavor. This item works particularly well blended with a little cheese and garlic as a great filling for jumbo pasta shells or slathered between layers of polenta and tomato sauce for a timbale.
3. Nuts. A scattering of crushed nuts adds richness and textural contrast to the often–soft interior of a casserole. Use a nut that is found within the culture's cuisine you're casserole–izing. So for an Indian casserole of some sort you would use cashews (roasted and salted are my favorite), likewise a Persian dish would be lovely with some almond slivers or pine nuts.
4. Mushrooms. I appreciate the 'meatiness' of mushrooms. Tucked into a casserole, they can add body and flavor. Play around with different varieties and sizes of chop. One of my favorite dishes is a Peruvian–inspired delicata squash casserole with layers of quinoa and sauteed mushrooms in between thin sheets of baked squash, bound by a little hummus. It's healthy, filling, vegan and totally scrumptious.
5. Cheese. A little cheese can go a long way to punctuating the flavors within a casserole. Go light with an exceptional cheese, grated at the table and your dining companions will be groaning withing thirty seconds. I love a hard cheese like Piave Vecchio slivered thin on top of a broccoli gratin.
Do you have a particular ingredient you always throw into or on top of a casserole?
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)