Casseroles are experiencing a renewal in popularity.
Maybe it is the economy or because people have less time to cook, but casseroles haven’t been this popular since, well, the last big recession in the early ’80s.
What makes casseroles popular during tough economic times is that they are inexpensive to make and are an efficient and delicious way to repurpose leftovers. They also are extremely convenient for people on the go because they can be made days or even weeks ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator or freezer, then just popped into the oven to heat through.
Casseroles can be broken down into three parts: The protein, the starch and the topping.
The protein is usually chicken, tuna, ground beef or ground turkey, but vegetarian casseroles are becoming increasingly popular as well. The starch can be macaroni noodles, egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or anything else starchy and filling. The topping will make or break the casserole.
This particular casserole owes much of its success to having been made the day after I made jalapeno cornbread to accompany another dish (Hoppin’ John, which didn’t turn out good enough to write about. I’ll try it again another time). The surplus cornbread — which had been taken to a whole new level with the addition of creamed corn — was simply crumbled over the top. But the sweet, creamy flavor of the topping perfectly complemented the saltier, iron-rich flavor of the chicken and spinach filling.
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
6 oz box frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed
6 oz dry egg noodles (1/2 bag)
1 envelope powdered onion soup mix
12 oz fat free cottage cheese
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 tsp granulated garlic
Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
3-4 large peices of jalapeno cornbread (you can substitute 3/4 cup of bread crumbs and 2 TBS unsalted butter mixed together with a biscuit cutter or just your fingers)
Dash Worchestershire sauce
Dash hot sauce
1. Preheat your oven to 375F. Put your cast iron pan on the fire. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and carefully place into the pan. Cook until golden brown, turn over with tongs and place the entire pan in the oven to finish cooking, about 12 minutes. Remove, let cool, then cut into large dice. This can be done up to a day ahead of time.
2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add egg noodles and cook about one minute less than what the package directions call for. The noodles will continue to cook as the casserole bakes, so you don’t want to boil them all the way or they will be mushy. Strain and stop the carryover cooking by rinsing the noodles under cold water.
3. In a mixing bowl, mix together the cottage cheese, egg and spinach. Add cooked egg noodles, cream of chicken soup, onion soup packet, chicken, granulated garlic, Worchestershire and hot sauce. Use a spatula to fold everything together until completely mixed. Spray the inside of a casserole dish with pan spray, then pour the mixture into the dish and top with crumbled cornbread or bread crumb mixture. Cover. Casserole can be frozen indefinitely or stored in refrigerator up to three days before cooking.
4. Preheat oven to 350F. Place covered casserole in oven and cook until bubbling, about 40 minutes or until center reads 360F or higher on an kitchen thermometer. Cooking time will be longer if you start with a frozen casserole. Remove cover and cook another 10 minutes to toast the topping. Remove the casserole from the oven. Let rest at least five minutes before cutting into it to help preserve some of the shape of the casserole. If you cut into it right out the oven, the casserole will be gloopy on the plate.
What kinds of casseroles are you starting to see again? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!