Potluck meals can be a lot of fun with the right group of people. It’s an opportunity to learn from others’ dishes and to show off your own creativity as well. An ideal potluck dish combines familiar foods in unfamiliar ways, without making you stress over ingredients or preparation methods. Here are three not-so-usual casseroles to consider when the right occasion arises.
Things you’ll need:
- Spaghetti squash
- Tomato sauce
- Cheese, such as Mozzarella or Parmesan
- Grilled zucchini or eggplant (optional)
Prep time: 1-2 hours
Cook time: 30 to 45 minutes
Lasagna’s always a safe bet for a simple yet hearty meal that everyone enjoys. Play off lasagna’s familiarity, while adding your own signature spin, by layering spaghetti squash into a lasagna-like casserole.
Halve, seed and bake a spaghetti squash at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, then let it cool enough to handle. Scrape the flesh out in strands with a fork, catching it in a mixing bowl as you go. Helpful tip: You can do this the day before and store your spaghetti squash in the refrigerator so you’re ready to layer.
Start the casserole with a few spoons full of your favorite sauce, then cover it with an even layer of the pasta-like squash. Repeat, alternating layers of sauce and squash, and finishing with cheese of your choice. At 350 degrees Fahrenheit it’ll bake for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the depth of your casserole dish.
Include a ricotta or spinach layer, if you wish, to emphasize the resemblance to conventional lasagna. Use a meat sauce for omnivores, a tomato sauce for vegetarians, or even a good mushroom sauce to keep ’em all guessing. In summer, before spaghetti squash becomes available, you can make a similar casserole by slicing zucchini or eggplant lengthwise and grilling the slices.
Things you’ll need:
- Arborio rice
- White wine
- Chicken or vegetable broth
- Parmesan cheese
- Fresh vegetables and herbs
Prep time: 30 to 45 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
If you’d rather bring something more elegant and unusual, think risotto. Traditional risotto requires an extended period of stirring on the stovetop, so it’s not a potluck-friendly dish. Baking it instead as a casserole isn’t as rigorously authentic, but it’s a fast and phenomenal last-minute dish that stays warm and serves beautifully in a stoneware casserole dish.
Start the dish on your stovetop by gently heating onions and garlic in oil or butter until they’re translucent. Add arborio rice and any other flavorings that appeal to you, and stir it around until the rice is well coated with the flavorful oil. You can add a splash of white wine at this stage, if you wish, and let it evaporate.
Use a microwave or saucepan to heat up vegetable or chicken broth to a boil, 3 parts broth to 1 part rice. Pour the boiling broth over the rice, onion and garlic mixture, give it a quick stir and cover it. Bake the rice in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.
Finish the dish by stirring in another 1/2 cup or so of hot broth, along with a pat of butter and some shredded Parmesan. You can add these finishing touches at the potluck, if necessary.
The beauty of oven risotto is how easily it can be varied. In springtime, make it light with baby peas, asparagus or fresh herbs. In summer use grilled zucchini or shredded spinach, and in cold months, diced, roasted winter vegetables are the perfect garnish. Stir in sturdy and flavorful ingredients before baking the casserole or add light and delicate toppings just before serving.
Beer and Pretzels
Things you’ll need:
- Soft pretzels
- Flavorings, such as onions, cheese, peppers, spices or mustard
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes
Sometimes a “fancy” dish like risotto might be too much for a casual gathering. So why not take something completely casual — say, beer and pretzels — and make a casserole?
Gather together enough leftover soft pretzels to fill a casserole dish — a pretzel vendor should be happy to save you some day-olds, or you can use a box of frozen soft pretzels that have been defrosted — and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Whisk eggs and milk together, as you would for French toast, and add a healthy splash of richly flavored beer to the mixture. Pour it over your pretzel pieces and let them soak up the liquid for 20 to 30 minutes.
Now comes the fun part. Add in flavorful ingredients such as caramelized onions, roasted garlic, shredded cheese, diced peppers, crisp-fried bacon or diced pepperoni, spices and herbs, or maybe even a spoonful of grainy, German-style deli mustard. Top with cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the middle is just barely jiggly. Use a rectangle casserole dish for easy, even portioning. Your friends and family will love it because it’s familiar, game-time flavors with a twist.
This just scratches the surface of what you can do with casseroles, and what’s left out would fill a book. Several, in fact. Let your imagination run wild. You already know lots of things that taste good together, so try combining them in unusual ways when the next potluck invitation arrives at your door. Then come on back, and tell us about your latest stroke of culinary genius.