Reinvent the casserole

Labor-saving steps, ready-to-cook convenience, and contemporary foods can make your next gathering a breeze

A casserole for a party? If you still equate casseroles with canned tuna, potato chips, and unidentifiable ingredients, it's time to take a second look.

Today's casseroles have come a long way in appearance and taste. You start with more contemporary ingredients, such as portabella mushrooms, flavored tortillas, chipotle chilies, cooked polenta, and chicken breasts. Then use them in recipes that emphasize their best characteristics. Like their predecessors, these entertaining lifesavers can be made a day ahead.

To complete a casserole dinner, the party menu can be quite simple. Consider the suggestions below.

Putting together a casserole dinner

A knockout casserole with a salad and bread is all you need for a well-planned dinner party. And a memorable dessert ― from a favorite bakery or sweet shop ― is the ideal conclusion.

Lamb-stuffed Portabellas. Serve with Thinly Sliced Cucumber and Red Onion Salad; Dill and Lemon Juice Dressing; Split and Toasted Pocket Bread; Baklava with Lemon Ice

Stacked Tortilla Pie with Carnitas. Serve with Green Cabbage Slaw with Shredded Jicama; Lime and Orange Juice Dressing; Bolillos (Mexican Rolls); Caramel Flan

Cannelloni. Serve with Romaine Lettuce Hearts; Dijon Mustard Dressing; Sourdough Baguettes; Lemon Curd Tart with Sliced Strawberries

Chicken, Asparagus, and Morel Casserole. Serve with Baby Spinach Leaves; Walnut Oil and Red Wine Vinegar Dressing; Ciabatta Loaf; Raspberries with Cassis (Currant Liqueur) and Raspberry Sorbet

Tortellini Torta. Serve with Arugula, Frisée, and Radicchio Salad; Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil Dressing; Warm Olive Bread; Coffee Ice Cream with Rum and Chocolate Sauce


The party-size casserole

The cannelloni, the chicken with asparagus and morels, and the lamb-stuffed portabellas each can be baked in one large casserole. The container should be about 2 1/2 inches deep and 11 to 12 by 16 to 17 inches (oval or rectangular). Cooking times will be about the same as in two smaller casseroles. However, if the casserole is made of heavy ceramic, which is slower to heat, you may need to allow a few minutes more in the oven.

If you use a metal roasting pan, tie a folded towel around the pan rim when you serve to conceal its utilitarian nature.

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