Editor’s Note: When we hunger for clever twists on the classics we grew up with, we take to these savvy restaurants, where everything old is newfangled again. Say hello to the Best New Comfort Foods.
Casserole is warmth and comfort. Casserole is a one-pot dish that can be prepped ahead. Self-reliant and relaxed, it takes care of itself in the oven by bubbling and browning away, allowing you to get on with your life. A casserole is a forgiving dish that can be simple and humble or elaborate and over the top. Lasagna, shepherd’s pie, the timpano from Big Night—all casseroles. Casserole can adapt to any cuisine or mealtime. That said, I like to create mine with root vegetables and pork, all inexpensive, healthy, and delicious. The ingredients should be available in any good homesteader’s larder, cellar, or deep freeze. Or, go to Moody’s, Kincaid’s, or your local old-time butcher and let them pick the three pig parts.
You Will Need
Three cuts of pork, like bacon, hamhock, and loin. (Preferably one cured, one smoked, and one fresh.) Allow about a half-pound of meat per person (or more, depending on your desire for leftovers). Dice the bacon and render. Save the fat. Always save the fat. Dice or slice the other cuts to your fancy.
Get 5 pounds of white root vegetables. Parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, potato, celery root. These get peeled and sliced thinly on a mandoline or by hand. You will also need a sliced (or diced) sauteed onion, maybe a bit of fresh garlic, definitely rosemary, sage, or savory. Be sure to have a couple of eggs as well; they help bind everything together.
Shred some Traders Point Creamery cheese, like the Fleur de la Terre, and pick up some TPC whole-milk yogurt, too. Mix enough yogurt, milk, eggs, and minced herbs to create a royale that will fill your cooking vessel about a third of the way.
Butter your cast-iron Dutch oven or skillet and layer away. Start with one root veg, season with a bit of salt and pepper, add a ladle of yogurt-and-egg royale, next with some pork, a little cheese, sauteed onion, a ladle of royale, more root veg, S & P, until you are to the top.
Finish the top with a presentable layer of root vegetables, pour over the remaining royale, and dot with more cheese, maybe goat cheese or the remaining shredded cheese. There should be no leftover mise en place—everything goes in.
Bake your concoction at 300–350 degrees until it is happy and bubbly in the middle. You can start with it covered to keep the moisture in and then remove the foil or lid when the center is easily pierced with a knife, so that the casserole can get a little brown on top.
Very important: Let the casserole rest for a good hour or more. This allows the starches in the root vegetables to reabsorb the tasty liquids and the dish to cool enough to be eaten.
This article appeared in the January 2014 issue.