Choose Your Own Adventure. I Mean, Casserole

So, after Labor Day weekend I was just a tiny bit tired. We’d survived the first week of school, spent the weekend in Arizona with family (fun!) and I’d spent the evenings visiting one of my Kappa chapters during recruitment (double fun! Til all hours of the morning!) and then, you know, driven seven hours home on Monday. Tuesday we had one of James’ sweet toddler friends over all day and by Tuesday evening I was very happy to just have to heat this zucchini rice casserole.

It froze beautifully and had me contemplating all the different permutations on this casserole you could make. It is pretty basic- vegetables, a little meat, brown rice and a bechamel binder but the cream cheese dabs on top give it the “heft” of a cream of-something based casserole without the extra sodium. And then I kept thinking of variations on the casserole- just switching out the sausage with leftover roast chicken or turkey would be easy, but as fall approaches I was wondering what would happen if I made it with roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions and goat cheese instead of cream cheese? And maybe topped it with some slivered almonds or bread crumbs toasted in brown butter? Then I realized you could easily trade orzo or spaghetti noodles for the brown rice and started to think about a tomato-spinach-mozzarella version, or eggplant and feta. I’m even contemplating using tostada shells with ground beef and Ro-tel for a creamy taco bake.

So, here for y’all, is the Master Casserole formula. Let me know your results, and I will let you know what winning combinations I uncover.

Master Casserole

(yield: 1 9×13 or 2 8×8 casseroles)

  • 3 cups cooked rice or pasta (orzo, spaghetti, ziti, penne, practically anything would work)
  • 5 cups roasted, sauteed or otherwise cooked vegetables (winter or summer squashes, tomatoes, peppers, onion, eggplant, etc.)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (jack, cheddar, mozzarella, fontina… I would not do all parmesan, but 3/4 mozzarella to 1/4 parmesan blend would be great)
  • 1 cup additional vegetables (optional but if you are adding vegetables like corn, peas, asparagus- anything that doesn’t need super long cooking, you can add them later, uncooked)
  • 8 ounces meat (optional. Sausage, leftover turkey or chicken, hamburger, pork tenderloin…) in one inch pieces
  • 4 ounces soft cheese (goat cheese, cream cheese, feta)
  • 1/4 cup “extra” garnish (pimientos, slivered almonds, bread crumbs, pickled jalapenos, scallions, etc.)

1) Combine your cooked rice or pasta and vegetables in a large bowl.

2)Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, then gradually whisk in the milk and continue whisking until it thickens. Add one and a half cups of the shredded cheese and the raw vegetables, if using.

3)If you are using sausage or ground meat, brown it in a little olive oil. (If you are using leftover roast chicken, skip this.)

4) Stir the cheese sauce and meat into the rice and vegetables. Pour into one 9×13 casserole dish or two 8×8 dishes. Top with the remaining half cup of the shredded cheese, small dots of the soft cheese, and the garnish, if using. (If you are using a garnish like scallions that you don’t want to burn/cook, omit the garnish until the casserole is cooked!)

5)Bake at 375 for 25 minutes, or until cheese is melted and casserole is bubbling.

 

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