Return of the casserole

April 15, 2009

tunaFrom Adage to Gourmet, casseroles have been highlighted as a resurging trend. Given the current economy, it’s not a surprising prediction. After all, casseroles almost always fall under the comfort cooking and budget cooking categories (unless you make the yummy scallop casserole from the Canadian Living Entertaining Cookbook which costs a lot to make but is worth every bite).

I grew up in a casserole-free zone. My dad didn’t like even the idea of casseroles one bit and my mother didn’t see any reason to rock the dining table over such a small bias. As a result, I didn’t make (or taste!) my first tuna casserole until I started writing my last book. I know it sounds weird but they just didn’t teach us about tuna casserole in chef school!

After a bit of trial and error, I discovered that adding a tomato-crumb topping cuts the richness of classic tuna casserole and makes the finished dish look tempting, too. I’ve shared samples of my recipe with tuna casserole devotees and they have all given this recipe two forks up!

Have you been making more casseroles in 2009?

Homey Tuna-Tomato Casserole*

3 cups (750 mL) short pasta such as penne, rotini or gemelli
1 tbsp (15 mL) butter
3 green onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
½ tsp (2 mL) each dried thyme and salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) pepper
2 cans (each 61/2 oz/184 g) chunk light tuna, drained
1 cup (250 mL) regular or light mayonnaise
¼ cup (50 mL) sour cream
2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
1 tomato, sliced thinly
½ cup (250 mL) whole wheat bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
¾ cup (175 mL) shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Boil the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain well and reserve.

Meanwhile, melt the butter n a small skillet set over medium heat. Add the green onions, celery, thyme, salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes or until softened.

In a large bowl, flake the tuna using a fork. Add the mayonnaise, sour cream and mustard and blend until combined. Mix in the onion mixture. Stir in the noodles and transfer to a buttered 8 cup (2L) casserole dish.

Topping: spread the sliced tomatoes evenly over the top of the casserole. Toss the crumbs with the garlic until evenly combined. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Sprinkle evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake the casserole for 30 minutes or until bubbly and very hot. Makes 4 servings.

Makeahead: Cover casserole and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Extend cooking time to 45 minutes if cooking from cold.

*(Recipe excerpted from Dana’s Top Ten Table (Harper Collins 2009)

Easy, economical Lemon Parsnip Soup

February 22, 2008

lemon parsnip soup

The idea for this soup is borrowed from the repertoire of my husband, chef Martin Kouprie, who first made a similar version of this soup at his Toronto restaurant Pangaea.I love it since it is thick and satisfying but cream-free and low-calorie (In other words, it’s just perfect for someone like me who’s returned home from eating, drinking and gambling away her meagre fortune in Las Vegas! — more on that topic another time).

Lemon Parsnip Soup makes an excellent change from the ordinary and is interesting enough to serve to guests. Try a bowl with a rustic bread stick and a chickory-based salad for a homey, healthful, comforting dinner.

Lemon Parsnip Soup*

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter or vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp (5 mL) finely grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) pepper
6 cups (1.5L) peeled, chopped parsnips
10 cups (2.5 L) chicken or vegetable broth
1 tbsp (5 mL) lemon juice
Thyme sprigs
Lemon slices

Heat butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, lemon peel, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often for 5 minutes. Add the parsnips, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until parsnips were becoming tender. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, for 20 to 25 minutes or until parsnips are very soft.

Transfer parsnip mixture to a blender or food processor in batches. Puree until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve in soup cups garnished with thyme and lemon. Makes 8 servings.

*Recipe from Dana’s Top Ten Table: 200 Fresh Takes on Family-Favourite Meals. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright (c) 2007 by Dana McCauley. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.