Think casseroles are old school — even outdated? Co-host of The Chew and past Top Chef competitor Carla Hall says it’s time to update your opinion. Or, as she put it, with one of her famously contagious smiles: “You can think outdated, or you can think food memory.”
Even though they became a favorite in the 1950s, casseroles are still the ultimate one-pot wonder. Hall describes them as “a way to put a lot of personality into one dish, so that you’re not stuck in the kitchen.” And it’s hard to argue with a recipe that calls for more cook time than prep.
If you weren’t cooking in the 1950s, though, worry not. Hall shared the basics with us to get you started. First, decide the starch, be it rice, pasta, or potatoes. Next, decide on your vegetables. “They should be veggies that you like,” Hall said. “Whatever’s seasonal.” Now decide on your protein: meat, fish, seafood, or even vegetarian options like tofu or seitan. And finally, get a binder. This is where the matter gets more complicated.
It’s hard not to hear “casserole” and think of a can of Campbell’s soup, be it green bean with French’s crispy onions or tuna with noodles. Looking for something a little more modern (and less gloopy), we asked Hall how to make casseroles a little more contemporary.
“Where you update the casserole is the ingredients,” she said. Describing a casserole she created inspired by a farmers market, made with whole wheat penne and chicken sausage, Hall added: “It updates [the casserole] by having fresh veggies and whole wheat pasta — and there is no creamy soup to bind it.”
So what binds it then? Hall calls for Country Crock, a buttery flavored margarine made with no hydrogenated oils. The chef is currently partnering with the brand to promote Country Crock Star, a contest that invites home cooks to show-off their best casserole recipes.
And while Hall is all about how convenient and creative casseroles can be, there’s one part of the dish she says is simply “not negotiable: the golden crunchy goodness on top.” We agree, wholeheartedly.