Good Enough to Read: Bake Until Bubbly; the Ultimate Casserole Cookbook

Veteran food writer Irene Sax tells us about the cookbook Bake Until Bubbly by Clifford A. Wright, and shares healthy and delicious recipes.
Bake Until Bubbly the Ultimate Casserole CookbookBake Until Bubbly the Ultimate Casserole Cookbook

Chicken Tetrazzini. Eggplant parmesan. Baked rigatoni with plump juicy meatballs. We may like salads and grills, but we adore casseroles.

Clifford Wright's irresistibly titled Bake Until Bubbly: The Ultimate Casserole Cookbook includes 250 recipes for everything from baked French toast to dessert cobblers. The best ones, though, are the meat, noodle and vegetable dishes that we put together in ceramic or earthenware baking dishes and then, well, bake until they're hot and bubbly.

You'll find exotic dishes like South African bobotee, Greek pastitsio and Finnish herring and potato hotpot. But most of the casseroles are old favorites like tuna noodle casserole and chicken divan, which Wright modernizes by cutting out the canned soup and garlic powder and substituting from-scratch sauces and fresh herbs.

Why do we love casseroles? They're easy. We can get everything together early in the day (even the night before), refrigerate it and then pop it in the oven when we're ready to cook. They're expandable: two friends drop in for supper, and a casserole meant for just the family magically feeds them, too. They're usually thrifty and almost always delicious: all that bubbling away in the oven melds and blends the flavors, in the way that quick grilling never can do, until somehow, the result is always more delicious than the sum of the parts.

But can you eat casseroles and still eat healthy? Yes, says Wright, as long as you pick the right recipes. While this book contains plenty of dishes that are heavy in butter, cream and cheese (baked ziti, anyone?), there are also plenty of lean but flavorful dishes — like baked fennel and tomatoes or Fannie Farmer's vegetable casserole —that will work for those of us who are watching what we eat. Besides, says Wright, you can almost always use less olive oil and less cheese than he asks for, reducing the fat considerably and still having plenty of flavor. Look, for example, at his recipe for pork and cabbage casserole, a family-style dish of browned pork chops topped with sauteed cabbage, onions and potatoes. The recipe asks us to cook the pork chops in 1/4 cup of olive oil, but we can easily cut that down to two, or even one, tablespoon of oil. “The finished dish may miss out on authenticity,” he said, “but people cook for taste, not authenticity.”

No-Apologies Baked Fish
Don't freeze the leftovers, says Wright. Just refrigerate them and eat within three days: maybe for a light lunch.

Red Snapper and Tomato Casserole

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 red snapper fillets (about 1 ½ pounds total)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 2 ripe but firm medium tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/4 cup very thin red onion slices

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Lightly coat a 12 x 9 x 2-inch baking casserole with some of the olive oil.
  2. Lay the fish fillets in the baking casserole, overlapping them slightly if necessary, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle half of the dill over the fish and cover with the sliced tomatoes. Scatter the onion slices over the top and sprinkle with the remaining dill. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Bake until bubbling on the sides and the fish is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Notes

  • This casserole can be made in a jiffy because you just layer and bake. Leftovers are also good at room temperature as an appetizer, dressed with a little more olive oil and a drizzle of some good-quality vinegar.

Easily Improved Cabbage Casserole
This Mediterranean-style casserole uses the crinkly-leafed Savoy cabbage. If you can't find it, you can replace it with Napa cabbage, which is not a cabbage but is a member of the mustard family. In either case, it makes a delightful accompaniment to a variety of main dishes, and leftovers can be put on top of leftover meatloaf and baked for yet another meal. Feel free to use less olive oil; this dish will still have good flavor.

Cabbage Casserole #2

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or one 28-oz can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds Savoy cabbage, cored, cut in half, thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. In a deep flame- and oven-proof casserole dish, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the garlic and parsley and cook until sizzling, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until much of their liquid evaporates, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook until it wilts, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Lay the mozzarella cheese on top and bake until dappled with brown spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve hot.

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