The casserole dish, also simply known as the “casserole,” is one of a handful of kitchenware that is intrinsically pegged to a very specific use or preparation, but that can actually be useful for much more than just its namesake.
“Casserole” comes from the French word for “saucepan.” Unlike the shallow stovetop pot we know by that name, it describes a deep, usually round or rounded dish made of glass or ceramic, primarily used in the oven. They vary in size, but are usually around 12×9-inches and hold about two to four quarts.
The word “casserole” describes both the cookware itself and the type of dish typically made within it. The definition of the dish “casserole” is a pretty loose one—it’s really any combination of protein, veggies, carbs (potatoes, rice, noodles, etc.) and some liquid, broth, or sauce thrown all together in a casserole (or other deep oven-safe) dish and baked. Many casseroles have crispy, cheesy or crumbly toppings, so you bake them uncovered.
The quintessential American casseroles are the tuna-and-pea or green bean-and-fried onion holiday/potluck favorites made with a creamy canned soup. A lot of other dishes that we might not call casseroles could also be considered to be—shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, scalloped potatoes, even macaroni and cheese when it’s oven-borne.
There are many more examples of casserole-style dishes baked in a dish around the world. In the UK, they call them “bakes.” Greek moussaka, Mexican chilaquiles, Italian lasagna, French ragout—all could be considered casseroles.
The great thing about dinners made casserole-style is that they’re easy, one-step/one-dish wonder meals that convert their ingredients into a tasty, often creamy integrated whole. Casseroles are prepared, baked and served within the casserole dish, which makes them no-brainers with easy clean-up.
In the same way that really any oven-baked mixture could be called a casserole, really any deep-ish, oven safe dish could be called a casserole dish. Some are covered, some are not. The one pictured is a La Creuset I snuck, I mean borrowed, from my mom’s kitchen. Here’s a round one. Or a stylish, modern square one. Here’s another member of the casserole dish family, the au gratin dish. It’s a pretty colorful family.
Casseroles are great for all manner of baked goods—you can do a crisp in them, a bread pudding, a pan of stuffing, even a small batch of cinnamon rolls. They also make nice roasting pans—my sister says you can fit a small chicken in one. They’re a great size and shape for serving family-style salads or dishes at big gatherings, too.
I didn’t make any casseroles in the one I borrowed from Ma. I baked a Fresh Strawberry & Basil Cobbler (to be featured later this week) in it, and then got some roasted beets and carrots out of it, and then had to give it back. Aw, darn.