There’s something comforting in a casserole.
Warm and usually cheesy or creamy with a carb or two thrown in, casseroles evoke a poignant nostalgia for home and hearth. For Mom.
The casserole as we know it today is largely a product of hard times — the Great Depression and World War II — a subsequent boom in women working outside the home, and the invention of cream of ... condensed soups.
Casseroles were then as now quick, inexpensive and filling dishes that were easy to get on the table and into hungry families’ bellies.
Casseroles can also adapt to a variety of tastes, spicy or bland, and are devilishly good at stretching ingredients and making a whole new meal out of leftovers.
Adapting casseroles from, shall we say, less spicy parts of the country, to a Louisiana palate can also be tricky; always test the fillings and adjust your seasonings accordingly.
For the most part, they also freeze well, meaning their efficiency can stretch into whole other meals. This is particularly important around the Colvin household as I stock the freezer ahead of the birth of our second daughter.
We got caught quite flat-footed with Ainsley and, let me tell you, a grocery store is not the first place a new mom wants to go when she is discharged from the hospital.
Determined to be more prepared with Cora, I’ve been hauling out almost every single casserole recipe I can find, tuna noodle (the granddaddy of them all, and not such a hit with my family), baked enchiladas and spaghettis, chicken and rice, and, what may be everyone’s favorite, macaroni and cheese.
Homemade mac ’n’ cheese is certainly harder than the stove-top boxed version, but it’s well worth the extra effort, both in taste and in leftovers. While I normally stick with the tried-and-true cheddar, you can also use any other grated cheese or a mixture of cheeses that you have on hand.
Be careful of the salt in some of the harder cheeses; again, always taste as you go and adjust your seasonings to your palate.
Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s assistant Food editor. Her column will return in late June. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.