Photo: Randy Mayor
In the 1950s, the casserole made its way into American kitchens and has held a place of dubious honor ever since. A far cry from its simple, earthy French cousin (composed mainly of rice and sometimes potatoes), the American casserole often involved pouring a can of cream soup on top of canned or frozen vegetables, mixing in some chopped meat, topping the mixture with cheese, and baking the concoction in a single dish. For home cooks in the 1950s, it was the ultimate convenience food―a simple one-dish dinner that could easily be prepared in advance. Therein lay its great appeal. (Find our collection of Top-Rated Casserole Recipes)
In the '80s and '90s, however, as Americans became increasingly sophisticated about food and cooking, it's reputation deteriorated. Baby-boomer memories of lank vegetables, heavy sauces, processed cheese, and cheap meats led many to disdain the simple casserole.
But comfort food and home cooking are back, and it's time to reassess the casserole's potential. With fresh, colorful produce, flavorful cheeses, ethnic flavorings, exotic pastas, and healthful grains replacing the cans of soup and vegetables, casseroles are an easy dinnertime solution for busy, health-conscious cooks.
As I was developing these recipes, I realized that those made with delicate, quick-cooking pastas like orzo and couscous could be served straight from the stovetop. Since the term casserole refers to the method of baking and serving from the same dish, it technically can't be applied. But baked or not, each of these recipes is a true one-dish meal in keeping with the spirit of the casserole―if not the formal definition.
These five recipes, filled with fresh, wholesome ingredients, are easy enough for weeknight meals―they're quick to throw together, and they don't dirty many dishes. All you need is a simple side salad to complete the meal.