Contemporary Casseroles

Lighten up casseroles to meet today's cooking styles.

By FamilyTime

 For the great part, today's cooks have moved beyond tuna-noodle and lasagna to create casseroles that appeal to today's appetites.

The tried-and-true preparations are still crowd pleasers, but today's casseroles may also be made with leaner proteins and bound with lighter sauces in place of the canned meat and fish and heavy cream sauces of bygone days.

Think of fresh tuna, salmon, crab meat, lobster, lean chicken, firm tofu, ground turkey breast, turkey sausage when planning your next casserole. Augment these with brown rice, wild rice, couscous, and whole-grain pastas.

Meat-Free Casseroles
For meat-free casseroles, consider dried beans and legumes such as lentils and black-eyed peas. Use canned kidney or black beans or soak and cook the dried versions. Corn, squash, spinach, cauliflower, lima beans, and mushrooms are all great in casseroles.

A little cheese in a casserole goes a long way. Don't hesitate to experiment with good melting cheeses such as Fontina, Gruyère, Swiss, and others. Crumble feta or farmers cheese on top of the dish, or substitute sharp cheddar for a more familiar mild cheese.

Other Ideas
Firm fruits, such as apples and pears, are delicious in some casseroles. Try pairing them with turkey sausage, for instance. Toss handfuls of dried cranberries or cherries into pork or turkey casseroles. Sprinkle sliced almonds or peanuts over chicken-based dishes.

Potatoes are not commonly found in casseroles, in part because they don’t freeze and reheat well — they turn mushy and watery — and so don’t lend themselves to casserole cooking. Some dishes, though, like old-fashioned Shepherd's Pie, call for mashed potatoes spread over the top of the ground meat. Others call for sliced potatoes or browned chopped potatoes.

When it comes to the sauce, thin canned cream soups with low-fat milk, use chicken broth and low-fat sour cream. Spark up flavors with lemon juice and splashes of vinegar.

For a special treat, make casseroles in individual ramekins and then give one to each family member. The only problem with this idea is that it means few, or no, leftovers. And leftovers are one of the best things about casseroles!