The Riff

Southern Casseroles: A New Generation

By: Hannah Lee Leidy

We may not own region-specific recipes for Southern casseroles, but we’re good at them. We bring them to potlucks and slip them into each others’ fridges when we have babies, lose loved ones, and otherwise weather those times in life when nourishment doesn’t seem like a priority. Casseroles warm our bellies and souls when nothing else will do.

Give or take a few elements, they typically involve a protein, a token vegetable or two, and an unapologetic helping of carbs cloaked in a savory sauce, topped with a generous layer of crunch.

While we’d never turn our nose up at solid standbys like the tuna noodle or mac and cheese, we think there’s room in the casserole canon for some fresh takes. Because, newsflash: it’s been a generation or two since we’ve been at the mercy of frozen peas. Hello fennel, black kale, and fingerling potatoes! Still, we’ve stayed true to the defining characteristic of the genre—that is, unfussy, portable, and soul-satisfying.

So butter a shallow baking dish (remember more surface area equals more crunch), or better yet, two. Give one to a neighbor and stick the other in your freezer for an evening when getting dinner on the table is a daunting prospect. There’s comfort in knowing that all you have to do is turn on the oven, pour a glass of wine, and bake until bubbly.

Southern Casseroles that Warm Us

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Country Ham Strata

This strata makes a totally appropriate breakfast-for-dinner casserole. You could also prep it on a Saturday night to have for Sunday brunch. Bursting with sweet pockets of peppers and salty ham, it makes a meal worth waking up for.

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Butterbeans and Breadcrumbs

Put a Southern twist on all the elements you love in green bean casserole by subbing butterbeans instead. The generous dusting of breadcrumbs on top provides a crunchy contrast to the creamy beans.

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Cauliflower Casserole

This low-carb alternative to the traditional casserole combines cauliflower florets and mushrooms in a spiced cream sauce. Despite its appearance, this Southern casserole contains no cheese. Calabrian and guajillo peppers and paprika give the sauce its rich, orange color.

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Delicata Squash, Black Kale, and Sausage Bread Pudding

Delicata squash and hearty black kale challenge the idea that casseroles rely on frozen ingredients and pantry staples. This egg-based recipe makes for an elegant one-dish dinner or breakfast. If the latter, do yourself a favor and prep it in advance. Refrigerate overnight, and then bake in the morning.

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Sunny Breakfast Casserole

Forget the overdone egg and sausage classic. This fingerling, gruyère, and lardon casserole will be the star of your next brunch.

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Chicken Pie with Fennel, Leeks, and Mushrooms

Fennel and leeks bring this retro favorite into the twenty-first century. Make it when you have leftover roast chicken, or, in a pinch, buy a rotisserie bird. And no one’s suggesting you make your own phyllo— the store-bought variety will do just fine. Pinch the raw dough with your fingers for a pretty finish.

This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue.

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