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One-Pot Meals

<i> Times Food Editor</i>

There are times in every cook’s life when casseroles or one-pot main dishes are the only solution to a mealtime dilemma. Not only can most be made ahead and cooked or reheated at the last moment, but many casseroles are content to go on “hold” for an hour or so when a Little League game or some other equally important late afternoon activity delays a normal dinner hour.

Unfortunately, in this day and age of slimmed down dining, casserole recipes often are shunted aside as too fattening and too complicated to bother with. It’s easier to grab a piece of fish, saute it and serve it with a salad.

Granted such a menu does assuage the pangs of hunger, generally leaving one with that marvelous feeling that comes with not overeating. To my mind, however, a constant repetition of such a meal also leaves one with an equally marvelous sense of boredom. There is little adventure in sorting out a group of subtle flavors with a simple broiled fish. Instead, that comes when you break down and treat yourself and whoever else is around to a blend of meats and vegetables matched with a mixture of interesting seasonings.

One-pot meals also have been eschewed by those who have been subjected to them by a cook who sees a casserole as the only solution to using up leftovers--whether or not the leftovers are compatible in flavor and texture.

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Only when they aren’t created with the respect they merit should casseroles be rejected as a worthy dinner offering. After all, some of the great classic dishes of the world fall into this category of cookery. Two great French classics that come to mind right off are boeuf Bourguignon and a cassoulet. And who can resist the wonderful aromas and flavors found in a rich shepherd’s pie or our own American contribution to superb one-pot meals, old-fashioned American beef stew.

Any and/or all of these dishes have one factor in common. When good ingredients are chosen and properly blended and cooked, the finished product is a total delight to eat.

There are, of course, casseroles and casseroles. A redolent cabbage-based casserole may not be exactly the perfect choice for a company dinner on a day when one has little last-minute time to devote to food preparation, but there are plenty of quite elegant-looking and tasting all-in-one main dishes that one need have no hesitancy to serve to guests. A luscious turkey and vegetable casserole with a sesame seed-laced lattice-work pie crust topping will find favor with any visiting diner. Or, if you’re planning a weekend brunch, an old-fashioned cheese and egg strata that needs to sit for a few hours or overnight before being cooked is a great choice.

Casseroles, of course, require more preparation and usually more cooking time than your average broiled-fish-and-salad menu. But most can be made the night before or early in the day and then finished off at the last minute while the table is being set. So when you know you’re going to be faced with a dinnertime time crunch, surprise everyone with a one-pot meal. We’ll help out with a few suggestions.

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SPANISH PORK AND RICE

1/4 cup olive oil

1 pound lean pork, cut in julienne strips

1 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 cup uncooked rice

1 cup chopped celery

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1 green pepper, chopped

1 (1-pound 12-ounce) can whole tomatoes

1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground oregano

Salt, pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in Dutch oven or large skillet. Brown pork in oil with onion and garlic. Add 1 cup chicken broth. Cover and simmer until pork is almost tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove pork and any juice left in skillet.

Reheat Dutch oven over medium heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet. Saute rice in olive oil until golden. Stir in celery, green pepper and undrained tomatoes. With spoon cut tomatoes into pieces. Add remaining 1/2 cup broth, chili powder, sugar, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings to taste. Garnish with blanched green pepper strips, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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Variation: 1/2 cup black olives or stuffed green olives, sliced or shredded cheese may be added to recipe at end. Also, mixture may be prepared on top of stove up to stage where rice and remaining ingredients are added, then baked, covered, at 350 degrees 30 to 35 minutes.

CINCINNATI CHILI

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

2 medium onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 quart water

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon vinegar

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Dash ground cinnamon

Cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt

Brown beef and onions in large, heavy pot. Spoon off excess fat and grind mixture in food processor until mealy in consistency. Return to pot. Add tomato sauce and paste, water, chili powder, vinegar, pepper, bay leaf, cumin, marjoram, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne, sugar and salt to taste. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer 1 to 2 hours or until thick, stirring occasionally. Serve alone or over cooked spaghetti with shredded Cheddar cheese and chopped onions, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

TURKEY-TARRAGON PIE

6 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

6 tablespoons flour

1 cup sliced celery

1 cup sliced carrots

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 cups milk

Salt

Dash white pepper

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon or 1 tablespoon crushed fresh

1/2 teaspoon paprika

4 cups cubed cooked turkey

1/4 cup white wine

1 recipe pie dough, cut into lattice strips

1 egg yolk, beaten

2 tablespoons water

Sesame seeds

Melt butter in saucepan. Saute onion until tender. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Stir in celery and carrots and saute 3 minutes. Add broth. Bring to boil. Slowly stir in milk. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Add dry mustard, tarragon and paprika. Heat over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly.

Fold in turkey and white wine. Turn hot mixture into 1 1/2-quart casserole and top with weaving of pie dough to make lattice form. Beat egg yolk with water. Brush egg wash over dough and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 400 degrees about 30 minutes or until golden brown on top. Garnish with fresh tarragon, if desired. Makes about 6 servings.

CHICKEN NOODLE

GARDEN CASSEROLE

8 ounces medium egg noodles

3 quarts salted boiling water

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 (3-pound) chicken, cut up

1 cup chopped onions

3 medium carrots, cut into 1 1/2-inch strips

1 medium zucchini, cut in slices

1 medium green pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 (10-ounce) package frozen cut corn kernels, thawed

3/4 teaspoon thyme, crushed

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 chicken bouillon cubes

3 medium tomatoes, cut in wedges, optional

Gradually add noodles to rapidly boiling water so that water continues to boil. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until barely tender. Drain.

Melt butter in large skillet. Add chicken and brown well, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken. Add onions, carrots, zucchini, green pepper, garlic and corn to pan drippings. Cook and stir over medium-high heat 2 minutes. Stir in thyme and pepper.

Combine noodles and vegetable mixture. Pour into ungreased 13x9-inch baking dish. Top with chicken pieces. Dissolve bouillon cubes in 3/4 cup boiling water. Pour over chicken and noodles. Cover dish with foil and bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes. Remove dish from oven and remove foil. Line edges of dish with tomato wedges. Place under broiler and broil until tomatoes are hot. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

HAM-HOMINY CASSEROLE

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1 (1-pound 13-ounce) can hominy, drained

1 cup cubed cooked ham

Dash white pepper

Dash Worcestershire sauce

Dash hot pepper sauce

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Saute onion and celery in butter until tender but not browned. Beat eggs lightly in casserole, then add milk, hominy, onion mixture, ham, pepper, Worcestershire and hot pepper sauce, stirring to blend. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes or until set. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

PERSIAN LAMB STEW

1/2 cup dried white kidney beans

Boiling salted water

1 1/2 pounds cubed boneless lamb shoulder

2 tablespoons oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 bay leaf

Salt

Dill pickles

Soak beans in cold water overnight and drain. Cook in boiling salted water to cover 15 minutes and drain. Heat oil. Brown lamb in hot oil and add onion. Cook until onion is tender. Stir in beans, tomato sauce, 1/4 cup water, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon and bay leaf. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 1 1/2 hours or until meat and beans are tender. Season to taste with salt. Skim off any excess fat and serve with dill pickles. Makes 4 servings.

MONTEREY CASSEROLE

1 pound ground beef

2 tablespoons minced onion

2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

Seasoned salt

4 cups taco-flavored tortilla chips

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Sliced black olives

Cook meat in skillet until lightly browned, stirring to keep meat crumbly. Spoon off and discard any excess fat. Add onion and tomato sauce and simmer 5 minutes. Season to taste with seasoned salt. Place 3 cups tortilla chips in 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with half of cheese. Pour meat sauce over cheese, then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Garnish with remaining tortilla chips. Bake at 350 degrees 15 minutes. Top with olives before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

CHICKEN NORMANDY CASSEROLE

2 pounds chicken breasts, boned and thinly sliced

Seasoned salt

1/4 cup butter or margarine, about

1 small onion, sliced

2 apples, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 cup diced green pepper

1/2 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup apple brandy or dry white wine

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 pound ricotta cheese

3/4 cup shredded mozzarella or Jack cheese

Hot cooked rice

Sprinkle chicken with seasoned salt to taste. Saute in butter in skillet until lightly browned. Remove and set aside. Saute onion, then apples, in remaining drippings in skillet, until apples are tender-crisp. Remove and set aside. Saute garlic in remaining drippings (add 1 tablespoon butter, if needed) in skillet. Add and saute green pepper. Combine broth with cornstarch until cornstarch is dissolved. Stir into skillet with wine. Cook and stir until thickened. Stir in cream and heat 1 minute. Do not boil.

Spoon 2 tablespoons cream sauce into 12x7-inch baking dish. Layer half of chicken slices, half of onion and half of apple slices on top. Stir ricotta cheese until softened. Spread over apples. Spread with half of remaining sauce. Top with remaining chicken, onion and apple slices. Spread with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly. Serve immediately over hot cooked rice. Makes 6 servings.

HAM AND CHEESE CASSEROLE

3 cups cubed cooked ham

3 cups cubed French bread

1 cup cubed Cheddar or Jack cheese

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon dry mustard

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

4 eggs

4 cups milk

Hot pepper sauce

Place layer of ham, then bread cubes, then cheese in greased 2-quart casserole. Mix flour and mustard and sprinkle over cheese. Drizzle butter over top. Beat eggs and milk. Add hot pepper sauce to taste and pour over ham mixture. Cover and chill 4 hours or overnight. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees 1 hour. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

FIRE STATION CASSEROLE

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1 small onion, diced

1 tablespoon oil

2 (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup

1 soup can milk

1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles

2 dozen corn tortillas

1 pound Cheddar cheese, shredded

Brown beef and onion in oil, stirring to crumble meat. Combine soup and milk in saucepan and cook and stir until smooth. Add chiles. Cut tortillas into 1-inch squares and place layer in baking dish. Spread with half of meat, then half of soup and half of cheese. Repeat layers. Bake at 325 degrees 20 to 30 minutes. Makes 6 servings.


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