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Today's popular casseroles could be referred to as 'comfort foods'

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

How did casseroles get to be so popular? Although it seems they’ve been around forever, casseroles didn’t really attract attention until condensed, canned soups came on the market in the ’50s. The casserole was an American staple during the Depression, when families needed cheap, filling meals to put on the table.

Do we only make casseroles because they are convenient? Is there really any reason to make a casserole?

With the availability of a variety of canned creamed soups, it’s easier to prepare a casserole today with more variety and robust flavors than it was in your grandmother’s day. New cooking techniques, along with the greater use of vegetables and grains, allow for today’s casseroles to referred to as “comfort foods.”

That green bean casserole your mom or grandmother made was invented by the Campbell Soup Company in 1955. Its goal was to try to come up with some simple recipes using Campbell foods to promote the company. Green bean casserole can be made using any ready-made creamed mushroom soup or homemade soup or sauce.

With the abundance of the many sauces, soups, vegetables, pastas and cooking techniques available, the number of casseroles you can make is endless. Remember the old tuna casserole made with tuna, mushroom soup and crushed potato chips on top? The modern casserole includes lasagna, chicken and dumplings, beans and rice, broccoli and cheese, and so on. It’s an easy and enjoyable way to satisfy our demand for healthier dishes.

Potato Chips and Tuna Casserole

This is my “classic” casserole dish from my childhood. It’s really easy to make and tastes fabulous. My wife loves the addition of the peas!

1 (12 oz.) pkg. egg noodles

2 (10.75 oz.) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 cup frozen green peas

2 (6 oz.) cans flaked tuna, drained

2 cups crushed potato chips

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook egg noodles per package directions, drain. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix noodles, onion, cheese, peas, tuna and soup. Pour mixture into a 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Top with crushed potato chips and bake for 20 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

Pasta, Ham and Spinach Casserole

8 oz. penne pasta

2 medium onions, cut into thin wedges

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 Tbsp. butter or margarine

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. dried basil

1-3/4 cups milk

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained

4 oz. cooked ham slices, cut into bite-size strips

1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; rinse pasta with cold water and set aside.

In a large saucepan, saute onion and garlic, covered, in butter for about 5 minutes or until onions are translucent, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour and dried basil. Add milk and chicken broth all at once. Cook and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Add cooked pasta, spinach, and ham; mix well. Spoon the mixture into a 2-quart casserole. Top with shredded cheddar cheese.

Bake, covered, in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until heated through. Allow to stand about 5 minutes. Before serving, top with diced tomato. Makes 6 servings.

Chicken, Artichoke and Rice Casserole

2 green onions, sliced

1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1 Tbsp. butter

1 (10.75 oz.) can condensed cream of celery soup

1 (9 oz.) pkg. frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and cut up

1-1/2 cups chopped, cooked chicken

1 cup cooked, long grain rice

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large non-stick skillet, cook green onions, peppers and carrots in butter over medium heat about 10 minutes, or until carrots are fork tender; remove from heat. Stir in soup, artichoke hearts, chicken, rice, cheese, milk and chicken stock. Transfer mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese.

Bake, covered, in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 20 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Black Beans and Rice Casserole

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsps. chili powder

1/4 tsp. each salt and black pepper

2-3 large boneless chicken breasts, cut into one-inch chunks

2 Tbsps. olive oil

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes with onion and green pepper, undrained

1 cup V-8 juice

1 cup frozen whole kernel corn

2/3 cup long grain or wild rice

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 Tbsps. minced garlic

Using a large resealable plastic bag, combine flour, 1 teaspoon of the chili powder, salt and pepper. Add chicken pieces and seal bag; shake to coat.

In a large non-stick skillet, brown coated chicken over medium heat in oil on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside; discard drippings. Add beans, diced tomatoes, V-8 juice, corn, uncooked rice, the remaining teaspoon of chili powder, cayenne pepper and garlic to the skillet; bring to a boil. Transfer mixture to a 13x9x2-inch baking dish or similar casserole dish. Place chicken pieces on top of rice mixture.

Bake, covered, in a 375-degrees oven for 45 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and rice is tender. Makes 6 servings.

Ham & Cheese Macaroni Casserole

1-1/2 cups milk

1 (10.75 oz.) can condensed cream of celery soup

2 cups diced cooked ham

1 cup dried elbow macaroni

1 (4 oz.) can sliced mushrooms, drained (optional)

1 (4 oz.) jar diced pimiento

1 Tbsp. dried minced onion or 1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup shredded American cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In an ungreased 2-qt. casserole, gradually stir milk into soup. Add ham, macaroni, mushrooms, pimiento and onion; mix well. Bake, covered, about 35 minutes or until macaroni is tender. Remove from oven and sprinkle cheese on top. Return to the oven, uncovered, for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.