Three recipes that will have you bringing back the casserole

They get their name from the container in which they are prepared, feature vegetables, carbohydrates and some protein, and they’re perfect for reusing leftovers: welcome to their infinite world

Potatoes, vegetables and a creamy sauce makes a fabulous base.
Potatoes, vegetables and a creamy sauce makes a fabulous base.UNSPLASH
Julia Laich

The search for practicality in the kitchen is not the pursuit of Homo smartphone alone. The 1950s set the stage for the golden age of the casserole, vehicles for a simple cuisine that allowed a family to be fed at low cost and with little effort. Although it’s difficult to define the casserole, it’s accurate to say that they are savory or sweet plates, mains or sides, consisting of a mixture of ingredients baked in a high-rimmed dish.

Although their name came from France, it is difficult to decipher the real origin of the casserole, since it is a category of recipes that takes its moniker from the container in which it is prepared — similar to paella — rather than from a recipe with strict ingredients and preparation invented by a particular person. It is very likely that you have made a casserole at some point in your life, even if you weren’t aware of it at the time.

The origin

We do know that in the United States, casseroles were an affordable sustenance during the Depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, because the dish’s vegetable and carbohydrates helped make a more substantial meal out of a small portion of meat or fish. It was later, around the 1950s, “when food companies, whose marketing research allowed them to estimate the kitchen skills of their customers, promoted their products by offering recipes with simple instructions. These dishes were based on good old one-two-three-ingredient recipes that convenience food cooks could easily master,” as is chronicled by the article Casseroles - Main courses for baby boomers in the ‘50s, these classic American dishes are easy to prepare, low cost and nutritious from a 1989 Los Angeles Times. Brands such as Pyrex, Heinz, Campbell’s and Hunt’s promoted their products by offering recipes and simple ideas for preparing them.

Bread crumbs bring a key crunchiness.
Bread crumbs bring a key crunchiness.Jo-Zimny

Many casseroles have become classics and today, are especially prepared around Thanksgiving or Christmas: the Tetrazzini, with spaghetti and a creamy mushroom sauce that is usually made with leftover turkey or roast chicken; the Tater Tots Hotdish, prepared with meat, vegetables, sauce and tater tots; the sweet potato casserole, made with mashed sweet potato, pecans and marshmallows; green bean casserole, made with green beans, mushrooms and plenty of fried onions; or corn casserole, made with fresh corn, cornmeal, cheese, cream and butter, among many others.

Ingredients and methodology

If we focus on the ingredients of casseroles, it becomes clear that their combinations are infinite but, for the most part, when it comes to main dishes, they usually are based around the following elements: protein such as meat, fish or legumes, vegetables, carbohydrates — pasta, potato or rice — cheese or another element such as breadcrumbs so that the surface is au gratin, and sauce or another liquid or creamy ingredient to prevent the result from being too dry.

When it comes to preparation, regardless of the ingredients you use in your casserole, it is important to take into account cooking times: if you are going to use pasta or vegetables, for example, boil them until they are one step away from al dente, because they will continue to cook in the oven; if you are going to use meat or fish, apply the same rule so that the result is juicy.

Yes, cheese is also great on a casserole.
Yes, cheese is also great on a casserole.Megan Bucknal / UNSPLASH

One last note before we head to the recipes: it’s worth mentioning that casseroles have achieved their popularity because they require no more effort than rounding up different ingredients and putting them in the oven, something that is feasible if most of what is being used is already cooked or comes out of a can or jar (such as spaghetti cooked in sauce, soups, or other highly processed foods). But today, we are well aware that not every prepared dish is good for you, and that sometimes it is better to make a small effort to eat healthier than to save those 20 minutes that you’ll likely just spend watching Instagram reels anyway.



Time: 35 minutes

Difficulty: Sautéeing mushrooms


For 4 people

400 g fresh or frozen green beans

200 g portobello mushrooms

40 g butter + extra for browning

2 garlic cloves

25 g wheat flour

200 ml chicken or vegetable stock

50 g breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon of fried onions


Black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F

2. Wash beans and cut off their tough ends. Cut them into pieces measuring three-quarters of an inch.

3. Melt the butter in a frying pan. Brown the cleaned and quartered mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Add the finely chopped garlic and brown lightly.

4. Add the flour to the pan and cook over medium-low heat until it smells toasted — make a roux — and no dry flour is visible. Gradually add the broth, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Add the green beans to the sauce and mix. Pour into a baking dish.

6. Mix the bread crumbs with the fried onion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sprinkle the beans and sauce with the breadcrumb-onion mixture. Add small pieces of butter, distributed over the surface. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.


Time: 40 minutes

Difficulty: Having leftover chicken at the ready


For 4 people

1 chicken breast (cooked, steamed, roasted … )

4 potatoes

1 head of broccoli

½ onion

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

250 ml cream


Black pepper


Olive oil

Grated Emmental cheese to taste


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F

2. Peel and cut the potatoes into cubes (approximately three-quarters of an inch across). Cook in water with salt. After 10 minutes, add the broccoli florets. Cook for five more minutes, drain and place in an oven dish.

3. Shred the chicken breast and set aside.

4. In a saucepan with olive oil, brown the sliced onion, and add the diced garlic clove. Once the onion is translucent, add the chicken and cream. Season with salt and pepper, add Dijon mustard and nutmeg to taste.

5. Pour onion, chicken and cream over the potato and broccoli in oven dish. Sprinkle with the grated Emmental cheese and bake in the oven until au gratin.


Difficulty: Waiting for it to rest for 12 hours (but the refrigerator is doing the real work)


For 6 people

400 g of bread (preferably from a loaf)

4 eggs

350 ml whole milk

60 g brown sugar + 1 tablespoon extra

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

Grated zest of ½ lemon

100 g fresh or frozen berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.)

Butter to grease the pan


1. Grease an approximately 12x8 inch pan with butter.

2. Break up the bread by hand into large slices and place it in the pan. Place the berries between the slices of bread.

3. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, the sugar, the cinnamon and the lemon zest. Pour mixture carefully on top of the bread and berries. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for 12 hours.

4. Take it out, dust it with a spoonful of brown sugar and bake at 350°F until the milk mixture has become firm and golden brown.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS