andy mueller | in the kitchen with chef andy | aug. 2017
Even though fall and winter may seem like the casserole season, don't sell summer months short of this "catch all" concept. One of the best comfort foods of all, the casserole, has seen its popularity rise and fall like a roller coaster in the culinary world. Many of us grew up with the tasty yet economical hodgepodge of leftovers on our dinner tables. Some of us drifted away from this American family staple as we went off on our own only to come back to the quintessential home cooked creation. Access to new and exciting foods, coupled with the exploding interest of creative cooking has forced casseroles to take a back seat in the kitchen.
Today, people are realizing that even though there isn't a lot of pomp and circumstance with many casseroles, they will always hold a place in our hearts and on our dinner tables. Great chefs are finding a new appreciation for casseroles for more reasons than ease of preparation and economics. A casserole is just another excuse for me to use the phrase "it's like canvas to an artist."
Whatever masterpiece you may have floating around in your head may come to its fruition once a 13-by-9 ceramic dish sits before you. No longer the dreaded dinner, the casserole is an opportunity to showcase one's talent and creativity. There are no rules when making a casserole, only guidelines, and the only requisite ingredient is TLC and plenty of it. Yesterday's roasted, fried or baked chicken dinner can be tomorrow's Cordon Bleu, rosemary rubbed poultry and potatoes or arroz con pollo (chicken with rice). Slice up last night's grilled tenderloin or other steak, mix it with cream, grated Parmesan cheese, some wild mushrooms and roasted garlic, toss it with cooked pasta and you have a comfort dish fit for any occasion.
When creating a new casserole, especially when it comes to giving it a name, make sure you give it one that sounds appetizing and doesn't leave them guessing. Names like supreme, as in chicken supreme, or "magic" as in mom's magic macaroni salad work fine, but others don't work so well. The word "surprise" should be avoided at all costs, as should "leftover" or "quick." Nobody needs to know just how "quick" this came together, not many people like the word "leftover" unless its the day after Thanksgiving, and we certainly don't need any "surprise" involved when we're eating something. Save the surprises for birthday parties, pregnancy tests and Cracker Jack boxes, not your family dinner. Why surprise? Are you surprised it turned out, or that it tastes good, or are you surprised people are actually eating it? One thing's for sure, if you call it a "leftover quick tuna mac surprise," don't be shocked if all this dish does is give Fido a bad case of tuna breath.
Let your imagination run wild and create your own signature dish. Not only will you be a hit at the dinner table, you may even get invited back to the bridge club. They may even forget about the "Spam and black olive surprise" you so boldly showed up with last time. As you commence on your journey to "cass-a-roll" through summer, make sure that even though you're making this dish because it makes sense, make sure you use quality ingredients to help you on your way.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic
2 tablespoons flour
1 small onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups cooked chicken
1 small can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups cooked leftover chicken, cubed
2 cups, penne pasta, cooked
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided in half
1 cup Japanese bread crumbs
For the topping:
Mix one cup Japanese bread crumbs with one tablespoon melted butter and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well to combine.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat. When the butter starts to bubble, add the onions, peppers, and garlic. Cook until just soft. Add the flour, stir to combine and cook for several minutes. Add the chicken stock, mushrooms, mushroom soup, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and cream, whisk to creamy consistency. Spray a 13-by-9 glass casserole dish with pan spray. Place the cooked pasta in the dish, top with cooked chicken and the peas. Pour the sauce over the chicken and pasta. Top with the breadcrumbs, bake for 45 minutes to one hour or until top is golden and sauce starts to bubble.
Chef Andy Mueller is a well-seasoned Chef with over 30 years in the restaurant business. He's been on Food Network with Guy Fieri, was Reggie White's personal chef during their Super Bowl run in 1996 and has been Executive Chef at Zimani's in the late '80s, the original Executive Chef at Black & Tan Grille the first four years of operation and owned restaurants in Door County including Glidden Lodge restaurant north of Sturgeon Bay and Hillside Restaurant in Ellison Bay. He currently owns the massively popular supper club "Galley 57" in Allouez at 2222 Riverside Dr.