This recipe from my new cookbook, Not Your Mother's Casseroles, is perhaps the perfect expression of what I love about casseroles. It's quick and easy — a modern, lightened-up version of a "dump-and-mix" dish, where you open up a few cans and mix everything together. But it also has fresh flavors, lighter dairy, and — the best part — no pasta. Instead, protein-rich, toothsome chickpeas take center stage.
This is a meatless vegetarian dish, bright with lemon zest and herbs. It gets finished off with a crunchy, olive oil-drizzled crust of Parmesan and breadcrumbs. It's creamy inside, crisp on top. But it leaves out old-fashioned canned soups and all those heaps of cheese and cream. Instead I use some low-fat yogurt (so tasty and tangy!) and some cottage cheese to bind the casserole together.
I also love how pretty this casserole is when served up. The photos don't do it justice (have I mentioned how hard it is to photograph casseroles well?!) but when you scoop up this casserole you see the pink shallots, the green flecks of herbs, and of course the golden creaminess of cheese and chickpeas.
This reheats beautifully. It is often my go-to lunch; I love it with a good green salad and some crisp white wine for dinner, too. It's very satisfying; those chickpeas make for a more filling meal than pasta or rice.
I haven't frozen this particular dish, but I have no reason to think that it wouldn't freeze well.
Cooked chickpeas form the toothsome base of this delicious dinner casserole. It's vegetarian and so very nice for a meatless supper. But with its herbed and lemony creaminess, it also makes a great side dish for roasted chicken or grilled pork chops.
Three 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained, or 5 cups cooked chickpeas
1 cup cooked brown rice
4 large shallots, minced or grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese (ideally the small curd variety of cottage cheese)
3/4 cup plain yogurt (ideally full-fat yogurt, and not Greek yogurt; it has too little moisture)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 stalks fresh rosemary (leaves only)
2/3 cup dried bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and lightly grease a 9x13-inch or other 3-quart baking dish with olive oil.
2. In a large bowl, mix the chickpeas with the rice, shallots, garlic, and lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Mix the beaten eggs in a medium bowl with the cottage cheese, yogurt, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Finely mince the parsley and fresh rosemary leaves. Stir the cottage cheese mixture and herbs into the chickpea mixture.
4. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and the bread crumbs. (At this point the casserole can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.) Drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
• Reprinted from Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand. (Harvard Common Press, January 2011)
(Images: Faith Durand)