A Tale of Two Casseroles

I’ve been cooking and eating a lot of casseroles and gratins lately. My little white Corningware vessel hasn’t seen this much action since the Ford administration. Out of all of my crockery, it’s by far my favorite. Not just because of nostalgia for Grandma Laverne’s celery-cheddar-water chestnut casserole (which I flawlessly reenacted one Thanksgiving for my wistful dad, just for him to admit that he’d always hated it), but because it is virtually stain-proof. Nay, it is literally stain-proof. Okay, I also love it because it used to belong to Grandma Laverne.

Obviously, this time of year begs for bubbly shit coming out of the warm-your-house-up oven, but there’s something far more primal about making and eating casseroles in cooler weather. It connects us to our aproned, canned soup-having ancestors in a way that DNA just can’t. I was a frumpy housefrau in a previous life, I just know it, and casserole was my weapon.

Tuna Casserole

There’s just no way to make this look good, is there? Maybe that’s why so many kids hate tuna casserole. I always loved it, personally, which is a good thing since my mom made it on a semi-regular basis. Now, I make it pretty much exactly like she did, but I use a better brand of cream of mushroom soup and solid albacore. Everything else, though – frozen peas, wide egg noodles and crunchy topping – is just the same. Though I normally like to fuck with everything I grew up eating until its foundation is unrecognizable, tuna casserole garners my subscription to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of recipe adulteration.

The best part is the crunchy edge noodles. Or the sweet peas. Or the briny, flaky tuna.

Ham and Cheese Orzo Casserole

I know what you’re thinking. “Again, with the melty cheese and French-fried onions.” Well I can’t help it, okay? I need to see shit coming out of my oven with bubbly sauce and crispety topping. I can’t help it. Norm and his (adorably gawky) tween son Connor were coming over, and this kid’s picky. Normally, I believe in punishing pickiness by sneaking loathed ingredients into every dish, but I like Connor (and Norm), and decided to play nice. I know Connor likes broccoli, if nothing else that’s green, and he likes meat. And all growing boys like melty cheese and pasta. No brainer.

Okay, I went ahead and snuck in some chiffonade of baby bok choy and sliced green beans just to be a bitch. He didn’t seem to notice.

So, casseroles. I probably have one or two more in me, probably for Thanksgiving, and then I’ll seek help for my addiction.