23 March 2011

Crazy For Casseroles

As I mentioned earlier, Harry Lowe, gifted me with the worlds best casserole dish and I have been vigorously using it. There are few food things that Southerner's know better than a good casserole. So naturally one should turn to fellow Southerner, James Villas for tips on that classic. It is said that every great Southern hostess has several casseroles carefully frozen in the freezer just in case someone were to die and a quick funeral dish was needed.

As Villas points out, the 1970's were not kind to casseroles. (Frankly, I am not so sure that the 1970's were kind to much of anything, but I digress...) Some canned soup and crumbled cereal do not a casserole make. In Crazy for Casseroles, Villas gives the reader a staggering 275 casserole options. That is a lot of casserole action. Many of the casseroles will be familiar, many of them are derived from friends and family. Villas has a lot of friends and it is amazing how many of them have a fave casserole. This one was inspired by a casserole from David Page's restaurant, Home.

David’s Chicken, Ham, Artichoke, and Pasta Casserole

1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium-size onions, minced
2 large celery ribs, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups milk
1 cup diced cooked ham
4 cups shredded cooked chicken
4 large artichoke hearts (cooked fresh or bottled), quartered
1/2 cup sour cream
1 pound rigatoni, cooked according to package directions and drained
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 3- to 3 ½ -quart casserole.

2. In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over low heat, add the onions, celery, garlic, and nutmeg, and
stir till softened, about 7 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir 2 minutes longer. Add the
wine, increase the heat to moderate, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the milk and stir till thickened,
about 3 minutes. Add the ham, chicken, artichoke hearts, and sour cream and cook for 3 minutes.
Add the pasta and cheese and toss till everything is well blended.

3. Transfer to the casserole, sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top, drizzle the melted butter
over the crumbs, and bake till bubbly, about 30 minutes.

I say, stick that tuna casserole in the freezer for your next funeral and serve this one up in a festive celebration.

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