Can it be true there's now a generation of eaters who haven't enjoyed homemade casseroles? You know, those one-pot wonders: something meaty, something starchy, something goopy to hold it all together, and probably some cheese and/or breadcrumbs sprinkled over the top as it bakes to bubbling yumminess.
Classic example — tuna noodle casserole. You've never had one of those?
Well, I didn't make a tuna noodle casserole myself until about 22 years ago, although I dutifully devoured my share of my mother's version of them, as a child.
They just sort of fell out of favor. OK, they fell out of fashion.
They got uncool when we budding foodies learned about more exotic, more refined, more (yeah) expensive preparations and ingredients.
Then a fun thing happened. "Irony."
Martinis. Frank Sinatra. Retro was neat-o. And buddy, if you had a hip bone (not necessarily a hipbone) in your body at all, your dedication to irony would have to take you as deep as you dared go.
In 1984 Jane and Michael Stern published the ultimate retro recipe book, Square Meals. (It's still in print, a revised paperback with a much-less groovy cover now — boo.) This book features not one, but four tuna casseroles. Just to give you an idea where they're at.
How liberating it was to make such stupidly easy food and feel edgy about it! Tuna casseroles — and regrets — I've had a few.
I'm a little off canned tuna these days, so I've had to look elsewhere for my ring-a-ding-ding one-dish dandies.
Lurch forward to the early 90s. My local paper published a cornball recipe for using Thanksgiving leftovers: Turkey Tortilla Casserole. It was the height of goofiness, made from corn tortillas, shredded turkey, green peppers, onions, grated cheese, sour cream, and canned mushroom soup.
I had to have it.
And now I do, once a year, although I've learned to skip the can of sodium and make up my own bechamel with added mushrooms.
But it doesn't use up all the leftover turkey.
So this year I tried yet another retro casserole. It was inspired by the current issue of Saveur, which has a whole story on casseroles — told from the perspective of how horribly un-chic they are, but that their time to shine must come again. The inspiration was Chicken Divan (broccoli, turkey instead of chicken, something goopy, cheese), and when I say I was "inspired by" the recipe, I mean I just went into the kitchen and threw things together. I used flavors I wanted (a little Dijon mustard in the bechamel instead of sherry and nutmeg). Substituted dry Jack for the parmigiano-reggiano. Left out the almonds (?) altogether.
And it came out great.
Really, if you don't have casseroles in your kitchen repertoire, you're missing out.
You don't need a recipe for a casserole if you know what it's supposed to be. If you have a basic understanding of how to get there.
If you have a casserole dish to bake it in.
I still have my Corning Ware dish with the blue flowers. Not even Saveur managed to scrounge up one of those icons for their photo spread.
And if you must know, I got the Corning Ware as a gift for starting a bank account. Back when banks gave gifts.
It's that old.