One of the most common June Cleaveresque stereotypes I encountered growing up, in real life and on TV, was a fifties housewife serving a casserole. Well okay, the baking cookies and brownies thing is a bigger stereotype, but the casserole thing was still a thing. I know this, because many of my relatives, like my grandmother who was an actual fifties housewife, used to do stuff like this all of the time. And my mother and aunts and female cousins (once they came of age) did this on a regular basis.
And I’ve discovered that there was method to their madness. Because casseroles are really easy to make. Even someone of mediocre skill (me) can put together a passable casserole. And they can be incredibly healthy, if you put the right ingredients in it. And of course, if one puts the wrong ingredients in it, it can just be a culinary myocardial infarction in a Corningware dish.
Anyone who peruses sites like Allrecipes to find new things to cook has noticed one irritating fact. Well, two really. One, in order to get to the actual recipe, one must scroll through an interminable story about this person’s great-grandmother umpteen times removed developed this recipe in 19th century India or Italy or whatever and brought it here. Secondly, when one gets to the recipe, we find that there are annoyingly complicated instructions. The kind that require one to marinate these things and stir fry those things while brining these other things and whatever. The kind of thing no one has time for unless they’re a chef for a living.
Casseroles don’t have this problem. It’s literally just about dumping ingredients in a dish with an appropriate amount of seasoning (a good way to add both flavor and nutrition, I’ve discovered) and letting the oven do the rest of the work. If you find one on a recipe site, you still have to scroll through the endless story of some European or South Asian matriarch, but at least when you get to the end of the mundanity of their family history, you get a simple set of instructions.
Prep time for the ingredients is rarely more than five minutes, and cooking time is usually an hour or less. Which makes this great for people who don’t have a lot of time to prepare meals. Pop it in the oven, spend that hour doing literally anything else, then serve. One casserole is probably 4-6 meals. It’s good for a family one night, or a bachelor for half a week. Assuming the bachelor doesn’t get tempted by the leftovers in the fridge and eat them all at once. Or get blitzed on beer/bourbon/whatever and use the leftover casserole to cure munchies. Which is one of many ways alcohol can ruin a diet.
There are a million varieties, so I’ll only cover a few basic ones. Breakfast casserole or Frittata (which is a fancy name for breakfast casserole for people who have an overly high opinion of themselves and want to distinguish themselves from the hoi polloi) is one of my favorites. There are many ways to make it, but the ones I like just involve the basics. Scramble some eggs, chop some onions, mushrooms, sausage, cheese, spinach and bacon, and toss them in a dish. And I know, that list of ingredients probably just sent every Keto bro reading this into orgasmic bliss. I will pause briefly while they go and clean any ejaculatory indiscretions that may have just been unleashed into their pants.
I start most days with something like this. Of course, sometimes I just cook it up in a frying pan, if I don’t feel like chopping up ingredients for a casserole. I’ve also learned that I can literally just bake these ingredients as is for 15 minutes each morning. But whatever way I do it, this the breakfast of champions. It has about 600 calories (which isn’t bad for one meal) and provides over a third or more of the various vitamins and minerals. Except for vitamin E and C, which it’s a little light on.
If neither of these quite suit your fancy, but you still want eggs, there’s the French thing which is very similar to breakfast casserole but isn’t eaten by “real men”. And yes, I know that that is a very dated, boomer joke. Here is a link to the balding Bond Villain’s website that explains that reference to those who don’t get it. I’m talking about quiche.
Quiche is the French equivalent of Frittata, except it’s for people who want to be bougie in a Western European way instead of a Southern European way. It has all of the Keto ingredients (eggs, dairy, meat), but sadly, has one of the things that tries Ketovore’s souls: bread, typically in the form of pie crust. But the preparation is basically the same. You pour the stuff into the crust, season, and bake for 40-50 minutes.
A slice of this stuff that no real man should eat is a little lighter than the breakfast casserole, at about 250 – 400 calories. And it’s a little lighter on nutrition, although it does provide a healthy dose of calcium, selenium, phosphorus, and various B vitamins.
But one need not only have casserole for breakfast. There are plenty of dinnertime options. Such as the casserole that’s probably the most common stereotype of the 1950’s housewife: Tuna casserole. I know some people roll their eyes at this, since it’s usually the thing produced by people with no real cooking skill. And so mundane comedian Bill Burr seems to think it leads to domestic abuse.
Usually involving noodles, cream of mushroom soup, peas, and, of course, tuna, tuna casserole is simple and always tastes good. Even if it is kind of a “normie food”. It kind of is the casserole equivalent of a PB&J. But despite this, it’s actually very healthy. Two cups of this will only have about 500 calories, provide you with all of the B vitamins, and plenty of iron and selenium.
But by far the most loved casserole-esque food is probably that thing the Italians brought us over a hundred years ago. Shortly before they started shooting everyone in major cities and smuggling in alcohol. This is, of course, lasagna. The layers of pasta, meat, and cheese are loved by any self-respecting foodie. It’s not the most healthy thing, though. One helping will be 400-600 calories. It provides lots of calcium, iron, phosphorus, selenium, and B vitamins, but also may explain why the Italians struggled so much in both World Wars. Obesity is bad for combat readiness.
Another common one that is much loved in my home state of Georgia is green bean casserole. Consumption of this is almost a religious experience in the South. And this is also healthy, since it’s a vegetarian dish. It’s usually just made with cream of mushroom soup, beans, milk, and French-fried onions. It’s a little light on nutrition, providing 25-33% of most, but also light on calories, with only 400 for two cups. Of course, we usually ruin that by eating it with ribs and fried chicken, which is why we tend to be a bit portly.
So casserole is kind of like pizza and sandwiches. I know, you’re thinking “Triple-D (nobody calls me that), it’s not even a little bit like pizza and sandwiches.” Except, it is. The same way you can put almost anything on pizza (except for pineapple and anchovies, which are only enjoyed by heathens) or anything on sandwiches (unless you put barbecue and coleslaw in the same sandwich, which only an inbred Cajun does) you can put almost anything into a casserole dish.
So if your cooking skills are lame, or you have limited time but would rather not eat fast food, processed food, and everything else that makes you die younger than Lou Gehrig or F. Scott Fitzgerald, casserole is a good way to remedy this. The prep time is short, and the cook time is not bad. You can pop it into the oven shortly after getting home from work, and probably have a full meal before you’re hungry. And if you’re smart about what you put into it, you can stay healthy.