When I worked as a counselor in a homeless shelter I gained an appreciation for casseroles. The shifts were long and dinner was often the main focus of the evening for counselors as well as guests. Churches and synagogues provided meals at the shelter, and casseroles were served night after night. Because we didn't always know what was in them, when asked what was for dinner, one of my colleagues used to say "hot dish." The best casseroles ironically came from the poorest part of the county. Those Baptist's sure knew how to stretch a food dollar and make something out of close to nothing, they put the Episcopalians from the expensive neighborhood to shame!
In Bake Until Bubby, author Clifford A. Wright explains that casseroles gained a bad reputation after World War II when home cooks relied on processed, packaged and canned food rather than farm fresh ingredients. Thankfully, with the exception of canned tomatoes, Bake Until Bubbly eschews the cans, boxes of crackers and bags of chips and uses great high quality ingredients to create both traditional and modern casseroles.
Wright is a food historian and begins the book with casseroles throughout the ages. The recipes are divided into Breakfast Casseroles, Classic American Favorites, Casseroles from other Countries, Vegetable Casseroles, Vegetable Casseroles without Meat, and Dessert Casseroles. It's great to see casseroles being elevated into something worth savoring because they are generally easy to make, economical and yield something comforting. I've always been a fan.
Macaroni and Cheese
Makes 4-6 servings
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 pound milk or sharp aged white cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
1 pound elbow macaroni or any short tubular pasta
2 Tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 10 inch round baking casserole that is at least 3 inches deep.
2. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the flour to form a roux, stirring for about 1 minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the milk. Return to low heat and simmer, stirring until smooth but liquidy, about 15 minutes. Add the cheese, 1 cup or a handful at a time, stirring frequently until it melts. Add the mustard, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, and stir to blend well.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of abundantly salted water to a vigorous boil. Add the macaroni and boil until half-cooked (follow the package instructions). Drain the macaroni and transfer it to a large bowl. Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir and toss a bit. Transfer the macaroni mixture to the casserole. Sprinkle with bread crumbs on top and bake until the top begins to turn golden and the sauce is bubbly, about 25 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes, then serve.
Reprinted by permission from Bake Until Bubbly, by Clifford A. White. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Copyright © 2008 by Clifford A. White. All rights reserved.