10 Essentials for Quick Casseroles

By: Ellen Stockstill

Not only are casseroles filling and delicious, if you know what you're doing, they can be made quickly. See more easy weeknight meals pictures.
Thomas Firak Photography/FoodPix/Getty Images

People often think of casseroles as a comfort food. And with good reason. These tasty dishes have earned coveted spots at our dinner tables. Just think about some of the most quintessential Thanksgiving foods: green bean casserole with crunchy onions scattered on top and candied sweet potato casserole with gooey marshmallows.

Regardless of the season, casseroles are great one-dish dinners, and they can often feed a crowd or give you leftovers for lunch the next day. Furthermore, they're versatile enough to be enjoyed by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike (depending on the ingredients used, of course).

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While casseroles are undeniably delicious, it can be difficult to whip one together quickly for a weeknight meal if you're not prepared. In this article, we'll tell you what items you should have on hand to make a quick casserole. With these 10 essential items in your pantry, you'll be able to prepare a tasty baked concoction in less than an hour. Read the next page to see what you need to get your casserole cooking quickly.

10: Quick-heating Oven

If you want to your casserole to cook quickly, you need the right kind of oven.
If you want to your casserole to cook quickly, you need the right kind of oven.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

A quick-heating oven is key to a quick-cooking casserole. If you have an oven that's slow to heat or has trouble remaining hot, it's going to take you longer to heat up your dish. Go ahead and turn your oven on as soon as you begin assembling the supplies and ingredients for your meal. That way, it'll be hot and ready by the time you have the casserole prepared.

Toaster ovens are also suitable for cooking casseroles quickly. However, because of their compact size, these little appliances don't give you much space to work with, so they're really only suitable for smaller dishes. For super-sized casseroles, you're going to need a conventional gas or electric oven.

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9: Baking Pan or Dish

Casseroles are often sizeable dishes, especially if you're cooking one for multiple people. You'll need to have a pan or dish that's large enough for your meal but also safe to use in the oven. You can use rectangular or round bakeware that's glass, ceramic or metal. Most casserole recipes call for 9-inch by 13-inch pan or 2-quart round baking dishes. When making a quick casserole, you may want to go with the rectangular size, since the food will heat faster than it will in a smaller round dish (because the meal will be thicker in the smaller pan). Also, be aware that casseroles in glass or ceramic dishes can cook at lower temperatures -- usually 25 degrees lower -- than metal pans because glass holds heat longer than metal. If you cook your meal in a toaster oven, however, you must use a metal dish. Whatever kind of bakeware you choose, you'll save yourself time after dinner if you pick one that's dishwasher-safe.

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8: Mixing Bowls and Utensils

Every cook needs a good set of mixing bowls and measuring cups.
Every cook needs a good set of mixing bowls and measuring cups.
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Next, you're going to need sturdy mixing bowls and spoons to combine all your ingredients. For the simplest casseroles, you only need one large mixing bowl. The more complicated the dish, however, the more bowls you'll need. Therefore, it's a good idea to have a couple of extras on hand, just in case. They can be glass, plastic, ceramic or metal. You'll also need one or more utensils to help mix everything together. Large spatulas are always a good choice because they're sturdy enough to mix heavy ingredients but can also easily transfer the mixture from the bowl to the baking dish.

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7: Canned Cream Soups

Canned soups are invaluable when you're making a casserole in a hurry. Because you don't have to whip together a homemade filling, they take hours off your preparation time, and they're also an easy way to add creaminess and flavor.

While using canned soups can decrease the amount of time you spend preparing your casserole, they often contain high amounts of sodium. You may want to look for low-sodium canned soups if you'd like to make healthier casseroles. Grocery stores typically offer a range of cream soup options, and both vegetarians and meat-eaters have plenty of choices. Cream of mushroom, celery or broccoli soups serve as good options for everyone, while cream of chicken soups work well in casseroles for meat-heavy dishes.

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6: Precooked Rice or Pasta

Yeah, it'll all work in a casserole, but you have to cook it first.
Yeah, it'll all work in a casserole, but you have to cook it first.
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One of the principle ingredients in many casseroles is rice or pasta. But it takes awhile to prepare these foods, so start your casserole assembly with one of these ingredients precooked to save time. You can even put your recent leftovers to good use! Take the rice, for example, from the previous day's Chinese takeout and use it in your meal. You can also buy microwave-ready packages of rice and noodles for those occasions when you don't have available leftovers lying around.

To make a healthier meal, consider using whole grains. Some casserole-friendly options include brown or wild rice or barley. Of course, whole-wheat pasta is also available. Whole grains are better for you than their refined counterparts, as they are higher in fiber and contain other nutrients that are stripped from foods like white rice.

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5: Canned or Ground Meat

Besides being tasty and cheap, canned tuna works surprisingly well in many casserole recipes.
Besides being tasty and cheap, canned tuna works surprisingly well in many casserole recipes.
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You have a couple of options if you want to make a meat casserole in less than an hour. To really save time, it may be best to turn to canned options again. Canned tuna and chicken require no extra cooking, and adding either to your meal is as easy as opening a can.

If you want something that tastes a bit fresher, we suggest using ground meat. It doesn't take long to prepare, and you have a wide variety of choices. Your casserole could include ground beef, chicken, pork or turkey, depending on your preference and the kind of dish you're making. Sausage is another option, as it also cooks quickly. Whatever you choose, brown the meat first in a large skillet, drain out the fat, then mix it in with the rest of your casserole ingredients.

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4: Frozen or Canned Vegetables

Using frozen or canned vegetables in your casserole will save valuable prep time. Washing and cutting veggies can waste plenty of precious minutes when you're in a hurry. Most grocery stores offer a plethora of canned vegetable options. If you're looking to add some green to your casserole, consider using green beans, peas, spinach or asparagus. Canned corn, tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots are also great options.

Some cooks prefer to use frozen instead of canned veggies. This is fine, but make sure you plan ahead and allow time for them to thaw, or use the microwave to do it while you start preparing the dish. Be sure to squeeze out the extra moisture in previously frozen spinach before adding it to the rest of your ingredients so your casserole isn't soggy.

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3: Crunchy Topping

Don't be afraid to get creative with your toppings. This baker of this asparagus casserole, for example, used breadcrumbs and bacon to top the dish.
Don't be afraid to get creative with your toppings. This baker of this asparagus casserole, for example, used breadcrumbs and bacon to top the dish.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Casseroles don't require a crunchy upper layer, but a good topping can take a mediocre dish and make it great. Crunchy toppings add a different texture to casseroles, and they're easy to add. French fried onions are always a favorite, and they're ready to use straight out of the package. Breadcrumbs are also a great choice -- you can buy some from the store or make them yourself. A few cooks even use crumbled crackers or cereal like Corn Flakes mixed with melted butter or margarine to top casseroles. This can be a great way to use up that last bit of cereal in the box or crackers that will go stale soon.

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2: Aluminum Foil or Parchment Paper

If you have a topping on your casserole that'll brown quickly in the oven -- such as an extra layer of cheese or French fried onions -- you'll want to cover your pan or dish while baking. You don't want the topping to brown or burn before the rest of the dish gets hot. Some casserole pans come with lids that are oven-safe, but you can also use aluminum foil or parchment paper for a makeshift cover. If you don't have a lid, foil or parchment, leave the dish uncovered in the oven, but wait to put your crunchy topping on until the casserole has only 5 or 10 minutes left to cook.

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1: Salt and Pepper

Every cook should have salt and pepper on hand at all times, as even the most respected foods can be improved by a sprinkling from this pair. If you're making a casserole without a recipe, add salt and pepper to taste. Remember that canned goods like vegetables, beans and soups can contain a lot of sodium, so if you use canned foods in your casserole, you probably won't need to add any salt to the mixture. If you forget to add salt or pepper to your casserole, don't worry. You and your fellow eaters can just add a dash or two of each at the dinner table.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Better Homes and Gardens. "When to Use Glass or Metal Pans." 2011. (Nov. 13, 2011) http://www.bhg.com/recipes/how-to/cooking-basics/when-to-use-glass-or-metal-pans/
  • Cooks Illustrated. "Toaster Ovens." March 1, 2011. (Nov. 13, 2011) http://www.cooksillustrated.com/equipment/overview.asp?docid=27450
  • Mayo Clinic. "Nutrition and healthy eating." 2011. (Nov. 13, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/whole-grains/NU00204
  • WebMD. "Diabetes and Salt." 2011. (Nov. 13, 2011) http://diabetes.webmd.com/diabetes-understanding-salt

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