What are your thoughts about casseroles or “hot dishes”, as they are known in some parts of the country? What images does the word casserole conger up in your mind?
For me, I have two thoughts, either ‘yum!’ or ‘bleh!’. Mostly I have a positive outlook on casseroles. I find them warm and comforting, family friendly and welcoming. My favorite casserole from my childhood is Penny Casserole. I revamped it a few years ago and posted both the original and the updated versions here on the blog. You should go and read that post; it’s funny, involving yours truly locking myself out of the house in the middle of the night barefooted in 40-degree weather.
One day I was thinking about the similarities between casseroles, soups and salads. The ingredients are often similar, sometimes even the same, but the textures, appearance and attributes are a bit different in each dish. It’s kind of like the three states of matter–solid, liquid and gas.
Casseroles are more of a solid–unless of course you don’t cook them long enough or add too much liquid or simply like them loose (e.g., Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole). Soups are obviously comparable to the liquid state–unless of course you put a lot of noodles in them and then they end up more of a semi-liquid (e.g., Chicken Soup with Orzo–YUM!). Salads are often more like the gaseous state in that they are generally lighter with less overall density and more air between the individual ingredients–unless of course you really like the binder(s) in a salad such as mayo, sour cream or Greek yogurt (e.g., Traditional Chicken Salad).
I could go on for a bit longer on that subject, but I’ll give you a break–unless of course you want more. In that case, see the end of the post. It’s fun; I promise.
This Chicken-Spinach Cheese Ravioli Casserole could easily be termed a lasagna because of the way it is constructed in layers of sauce, pasta and cheese. The sauce is really fun to put together and quite easy. The flour is stirred into the cooked onions, mushrooms and garlic before the stock is added, so there are no worries about flour lumps.
Make sure that you squeeze the liquid out of the spinach well. I am always amazed at how much liquid can be expressed from spinach. I used my hands to squeeze out the liquid. As for the sun-dried tomatoes, they are as oily as the spinach is wet. You can press them with paper towels to remove some of the oil before adding them to the sauce.
The ravioli does not require cooking prior to layering in the casserole, which makes them super easy to handle. Although they can be used frozen, I let mine mostly defrost for comfort in handling. Cold things make my hands hurt. If using frozen ravioli, the cooking time will need to be increased. I don’t know by how much–however long it takes for the casserole to get hot and bubbly throughout. 🙂
And, lastly, the cheese. I used a preshredded 6 Itailian cheese blend. It worked perfectly with this casserole. At first I thought that the cheese was going to be too little, but taking into account the ravioli also has cheese in it, there is plenty of cheese!
As promised, here is a bit of fun with the idea of using the same elements in a casserole, soup and salad.
- For a chicken cordone bleu casserole: That’s easy. I’ve already done that one. You can find it right here.
- For a chicken cordon bleu soup: saute onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons butter. Add shredded chicken and small diced ham to the onions and garlic. Make a large pot of cream sauce, seasoned with salt, pepper and mustard. Add the meat and onion mixture and stir to distribute. Shred at least 8 ounces (probably more) Swiss cheese into the cream base. Stir constantly over medium heat until cheese is melted. Make a toasted topping of Panko bread crumbs and butter to sprinkle over each bowl of soup.
- For a chicken cordon bleu salad: chop a head of romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces; spinkle cooked chopped chicken breast and small cubes of ham over the lettuce. Add halved grape tomatoes, thinly sliced green onions and shredded swiss cheese to the top of the salad. Make a creamy dressing out of mayo, olive oil, lemon juice, paprika, salt and pepper. Drizzle over salad. Add some nice, toasty croutons and you are good to go.
There are a few other tweeks to complete these thrown together ideas, but you can definitely see how the elements of one recipe can be applied to different outcomes. Kinda fun, don’t you think?