“The remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served us nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” – author Calvin Trillin
What is it about casserole that so permeates Midwestern culture? I’d guess it has something to do with the fact that every ingredient for a whole meal is contained in one dish.
I have this theory that most people who grew up in flyover country could name their favorite casserole without hesitation. I also think most of the answers would fit in the following template: “My mom’s ______ casserole”. Contrary to this theory, I don’t have a favorite casserole. So, I solicited favorites from you. Credit to my friend Alison for sharing a recipe from her grandmother. And the recipe does indeed include enough ingredients for an entire meal.
Her grandmother’s Chicken Asparagus Hot Dish recipe includes 15 ingredients, plus salt and pepper. 15 ingredients!
Sidebar: can we talk about how awesome the phrase “hot dish” is? I feel like its so clever, I mean, not only is an apt description but also a subtle compliment. Example: “That is one hot dish you brought”.
I’m pretty sure I just made casseroles sexy.
Anyway, our list of ingredients: cooked chicken, asparagus, cashews, celery, mushrooms, pimento, onion, green pepper, black olives, cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, mayonnaise, egg noodles, and the granddaddy of them all: Velveeta.
You didn’t think I would make a casserole without Velveeta, did you?!
Making the casserole is just a matter of assembly. First, chop up the asparagus, cooked chicken, celery, cashews, onion, green pepper, and Velveeta. Then arrange all the ingredients listed above (except the creamed soups, mayo, and chow mein noodles) in layers in a 9 x 13 baking dish.
Now mix the two cans of soup and the mayo together. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the layered ingredients. At this point, the dish will weigh about 5 lbs. Honestly…it’s A LOT of stuff in a single pan. Take a deep breath, heave it into the oven and bake at 350° for an hour. Toward the end of cooking, sprinkle the chow mein noodles on top so they don’t burn.
Simple right? Its basically 1. put everything in a dish, 2. cover with sauce, 3. bake, 4. sprinkle crunchy bits on the top. In fact, I’d wager that these four steps are the foundation for 90% of casseroles.
So how was it? I’m not ready to convert to casseroles. I didn’t like the Velveeta (the first time I’ve ever said that) with the noodles and the celery overpowered some of the other ingredients like the pimento and the nice egginess of the noodles. I think the key might be to find a recipe with less ingredients and just one or two with a strong flavor. God I’m a snob.
UNFORESEEN BONUS: We had enough food to feed us for 4 days. I bet 6 people could have eaten dinner from that one hot dish. (hehehe, “one hot dish”) And it was filling. Hence, the draw of the casserole: simple and filling enough for an army. Plus, it includes pretty much the entire food pyramid.
Although, I’m not sure where Velveeta fits on aforementioned pyramid.
xoxo The Flyover Foodie
p.s. Thanks again to another hot dish, Alison, for sharing the recipe.