Attention restaurant owners: If you are looking for corona-friendly recipes to add to your menu, think casseroles! The quintessential oven-baked creation is making a comeback during corona, and for good reason. Budget-friendly and family friendly, casseroles can be as rich or as simple as your customers’ palates desire. They are easy to prepare, nutritious, delicious, and are typically made from many of the staples you already have in your pantry. Think cost-effective ingredients such as pasta, rice, flour, canned or frozen vegetables, canned soup, beans, and a choice of meat, cheese, fish, or vegetarian options. Moreover, casseroles make plenty of servings and are easy to freeze and store.
Many Types of Casseroles
Here’s more good news for 2020 restaurateurs: With a trove of tried-and-true casserole recipes available, and with an endless variety of dishes your chefs can concoct on their own, it is no wonder the casserole has become the “go-to” dish for many restaurants in the wake of the coronavirus.
Typically served as a main course at lunch or dinner, there are also breakfast casseroles, brunch casseroles, and even dessert casseroles for your customers with a sweet tooth (imagine savoring the flavor of Maple Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole…).
The all-in-one dish also boasts a rich international heritage, with cuisines from around the world giving birth to favorites such as Eggplant Moussaka (Greek-Mediterranean), Bean Cassoulet and Ragout from France, Italian Lasagna, North African Tagine (made by simmering meat, vegetables, and spices) and English Shepherd’s Pie. Popular North American varieties include tuna casserole, chicken casserole, potato casserole, baked ziti, zucchini or spinach casserole, and innovations such as Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta and Pumpkin Squash Delight. There is a recipe for every taste bud and a treasure chest of winning formulas for chefs to discover.
A Short History of Casserole
Who created the first casserole? The debate still rages on, however the first appearances of the classic date back to the 18th century, when the concept of combining several filling ingredients into a single dish came to the fore. Early recipes called for pounded and pressed rice mixed with ingredients such as sweetbread or chicken.
During the Depression and Second World War, casseroles became a symbol of the ultimate affordable comfort food during trying times and recipes for casseroles proliferated in American households and cookbooks. During the mid-20th century, the casserole pan also underwent a transformation, upgraded from ceramic ware to lightweight glass and Tupperware. Today, slow cookers and crock pots often do much of the work.
However, when the fast-food industry burst onto the scene, family style meals waned. But now casseroles are experiencing a resurgence, emerging as one of the most sought-after menu items in the wake of the corona crisis.
Characterized by being served in the same dish in which it is prepared, casseroles are typically oven-baked and may consist of the following: a variety of vegetables; starchy binders such as rice, noodles/pasta, flour, potatoes, or breadcrumbs; proteins such as beans (all kinds, cooked or canned), canned tuna, seafood, chicken, and beef; liquids such as vegetable soup, sauces, milk, juice, or alcoholic varieties made with cider, wine, beer, gin, or rum. Cheese or crumb toppings often provide the finishing touch.
Casseroles: Tips for Putting it All Together
If you work in foodservice and are looking to perfect your casserole offerings, consider the following chef-recommended ingredients: Tomato sauce (pureed/crushed/diced or whole) for added flavor and to prevent drying out in the oven; white sauces made from canned cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup; Alfredo sauce; vegetable/chicken/beef broth (including cubes or powder); hot BBQ or steak sauce; and your choice of condiments such as ketchup, mustard, relish, mayo, and more.
When it comes to spicing things up, here are some great casserole accompaniments: salt, pepper, celery salt, garlic salt, garlic powder, thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley, and regular or smoked paprika.
And here’s an Insiders’ Tip from the pros: Since you are essentially heating and marrying ingredients that are already cooked, oven times rarely exceed 20-30 minutes at 300 degrees F. Be sure to cover tightly so that the dish doesn’t dry out.
Restaurant Casseroles To-Go
If your foodservice, like so many others in the industry, has transformed into a take-out and delivery operation, or pick-up only, now is the time to start advertising your casserole-to-go menu. Be sure to include a myriad of choices that cater to the gamut of customers. Think gluten-free, dairy free, plant-based, vegan, vegetarian, low-fat, Keto-friendly, and more.
Recommended Casserole Recipes During Corona
With the holiday season around the corner and the fall season already at the door, there is no better time to pull out your customers’ favorite traditional casserole recipes and start cooking up a storm. Better yet, experiment with new ingredients and spices to create a signature dish and a niche market for your business!
To help get you started, here are some winning recipes to experiment with.
Sweet Potato Casserole
- 3-4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2 large eggs
- 4 tbsp. melted butter
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 4 tbsp. melted butter
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Prepare a 2-quart baking dish
- In a large pot of salted water, boil sweet potatoes on high
- Lower heat to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender (15-20 minutes)
- Drain, cool, and mash the sweet potatoes
- Filling: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the mashed potatoes with the remaining ingredients; transfer to the prepared baking dish
- Topping: In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, butter, and salt moist (the mixture should clump together)
- Stir in the pecans
- Spread mixture over the top of sweet potatoes in an even layer
- Bake until center is set, and top is golden (25-30 mins)
- Serve hot & enjoy!
Baked Ziti with Spinach Casserole
- 1 package (12 oz.) ziti pasta, wheat or gluten-free
- 1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
- 10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
- 1 tsp. oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups shredded (skim) mozzarella
- 8 oz. fat-free ricotta
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 375F°
- Prepare a 9 x13-inch baking pan with oil spray
- In a large pot of salted water, cook pasta until al dente
- Drain and set aside
- In a medium saucepan, sauté garlic with olive oil. Add tomatoes, spinach, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano and cook for 5 minutes
- Combine sauce mixture with the pasta. Add half the mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan cheese. Mix well.
- Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Top with the remaining mozzarella and cover with foil.
- Bake until mozzarella is melted, and the edges are slightly brown (about 30 mins.)
- Cool and serve.
- Bon Appétit!