Mid-century canned soup concoctions were but a mere moment in the casserole cooking timeline. Now, the deep-dish wide-pan homespun wonders are finding their way into our kitchens again — especially when cold weather begs for big flavors and the comfort of sharing a meal from a single dish.
Cooking a la carte can isolate the cook in the kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I love my kitchen. In fact, I cook, write, and serve meals in my kitchen so often that I converted my dining room into a music room. But I like to sit down with family and friends. Assembling a deep-dish dinner ahead of time allows me that luxury.
I didn't grow up in a world that brought "covered dishes" to socials. The world of my childhood was a super-kosher universe where food was from regulated sources. Trust about whose "kosherness" was good enough was a potential land mine, and it was easier to avoid it by just hiring a caterer or only eating at the homes of selected members of selected families.
This style of eating and living did not last with me.
Perhaps it was not coincidence that my first foray into hosting parties featured a deep-dish spanakopita with (probably un-kosher) feta cheese. I was in law school in Miami and budgets were tight, but the spanakopita was easier to carry and usually way more welcomed than, say, fancy-pants hors d'ouerves — even if they had the same ingredients.
I quickly discovered that casseroles allowed me to incorporate flavors I'd read about during my procrastination cookbook cram sessions or the tastes I'd sampled in my travels. A pinch of green cardamom or duck confit leg and suddenly, I was serving something urbane and sophisticated in a CorningWare dish. I'd just tapped into the power of casseroles and it was as deep as the dishes themselves.
My taste for regional Indian, Latin American, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisine send me scurrying to the spice cabinet to concoct blends and pastes that make these dishes mine.
I do this at least once a week for family and friends, and casseroles are no strangers to the menus I prepare for my catering business, either. Folks ask for the ones they love — with some of the recipes featured here among them.
There's something familiar and cozy about sharing a single dish; something wonderful about the mood of calm plenty that a deep-dish dinner exudes.
What could be more welcoming than warming up the conversation with a dish to share in the cozy collaboration for eating? Now that's what I call comfort food.
(Image credits: Christine Han; Faith Durand)