Friday, September 16, 2005

Casserole Construction

You really have to admit it – cooks and food-people are a very religious group! Don’t think so? Aren’t convinced? Well, let’s see, there must be some evidence (even if it IS anecdotal!) out there somewhere …

First of all, there’s the French. Now we all KNOW how into food THEY are! And how do they refer to their three national food products of pride (bread, cheese, wine)? The holy trinity of French gastronomy.

And then, there’s the soup scene. When cooks get out the stockpot and chef’s knife, what do they reach for to get things started and to set those juices flowing? Onions, celery and carrots. And what do they call them? The holy trinity of soup stock.

So, as the weather took a turn for the cool this week – bringing to mind thoughts of Fall and fireplaces and sweaters – what did the Ingredient Sleuth think of? Casseroles (that would be “baked dish” in Minnesotan -- at least that's what the humorous book How to Talk Minnesotan says!), hot and steamy from the oven.

And, being every bit as religious as the French and the soup chefs, what do "cookers of casseroles" select from the larder? Protein, grains and vegetables -- the holy trinity of casserole construction! With those dependable (P-G-V) items on hand, a good casserole is always just around the corner!

After last week’s musings on flatbreads, the Ingredient Sleuth's casserole of choice turned out to be a little number that the I dreamt up a few years ago. In this case, the beans and cheese are the protein, the corn (cream style and tortillas) is the grain and the tomatoes, zucchini, onions and peppers are the vegetable. Always easy and always tasty, this layered "baked dish" sends warm aromas of comfort wafting through the house in no time.


½ large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup red or green bell pepper, slivered into1-inch lengths
15-ounce can red beans, drained
15-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juices
15-ounce can cream-style corn
½ teaspoon dried, red chile pepper flakes
½ to 1 teaspoon paprika or chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

4 corn tortillas (8-inch size)
1 cup shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese

1. Saute the onions in the oil over medium heat, until golden, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the remainder of the “sauce” ingredients in the order listed above.
3. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes, to blend flavors and achieve thickness of lasagna sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings.
4. Layer the sauce in an oiled, 8-inch-round casserole dish with the tortillas and cheese, starting and ending with sauce. Cover with ovenproof lid or aluminum foil.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes.
6. Garnish with your favorite toppings: parsley, onions, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, avocado, if desired.

(4 servings)

Have you noticed how TV chefs are using the "build the dish" terminology more and more? Maybe it's about time to do some serious casserole construction at YOUR house as well! We all need some comfort food every now and then. Time to get some culinary religion and reach for that trinity -- and casserole dish -- once again!

Bon appetit!

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