"Mirliton, or chayote squash, tastes like a blend of cucumber and crisp zucchini. Paired with warming Creole seasoning and savory andouille sausage, the tender squash and sweet shrimp bring balancing freshness to this hearty casserole. "I love this dish for two reasons," says 2009 Food & Wine Best New Chef Kelly English, who shared this recipe. "First, the mirliton—or chayote, for those who don't speak Louisiana—is such a specific squash. You can't recreate it with anything else, and it just sings with seafood. Second, it is exactly where both of my parents' families come together in a casserole, at every table for almost every occasion." Chef English's original family recipe included more melted butter; drizzle with a little extra before baking, if desired."
A close cousin of casseroles, hot dish is a staple on family dinner tables and potlucks across the Midwest United States. This version channels the flavor and fun of a crab boil, with Old Bay seasoning, dashes of Worcestershire and hot sauce, and a hint of lemon, adding layers of flavor to sweet fresh lump crabmeat. Frozen potato tots add crunch to this creamy casserole, making it a hearty and filling dinner.
A few years back when my husband called his 90-something-year-old mother to get the recipe for this holiday favorite, she laughed and said no one ever had bothered to write it down. “You just make it!” she told him, but did eventually walk him through the method. The exact makeup of this Eastern Carolina dish varies from family to family, but in the Wagner kitchen, gooey cheese and a crisp potato chip topping is key, and if you’re worried that you’re cooking down the vegetables too much—you’re not. Gloriously caramelized mush is the goal and when done just right, this casserole can be filed under “looks like hell, tastes like heaven.” READ: Never Be Ashamed of Your Family's Casserole
Cassoulet ranks as one of French Provincial cooking’s most iconic recipes, and it’s one I've been besotted with since I was young cook. My first encounter with the regional classic (broadly described as a hearty casserole of beans, various meats, sausages, and poultry) was in the writings of Richard Olney and Elizabeth David. These legendary food writers portrayed the dish with such passion and poeticism that my 23-year-old self actually made a pilgrimage to southwest France just to eat it in situ—and, I dared hope, to unlock the secret to making great cassoulet at home.For more than a week, I travelled around Languedoc and Gascony voraciously tasting my way through versions that ranged from sumptuous feasts (crowded with duck confit, goose, sausage, pork belly, pork trotters, lamb breast, lamb stew, and game meats) to deliciously modest examples (no more than pork-studded bean casseroles baked under crunchy breadcrumb crusts). In the end, the infinite variety far outlasted my appetite—and my travel budget. I returned home with the understanding that there is no single best cassoulet, and, perhaps more importantly, I felt free to adapt this rustic dish to suit my own appetite and cooking routines.In the decades since my cassoulet quest, my fondness for this meat-enriched bean gratin has not wavered, and I continually play around with various formulas and techniques. But the version I crave most remains the simplest: one that I can get on the dinner table in under an hour. I start with boneless, skinless chicken thighs (unless I have leftover roast chicken, which works great, too). If I have duck fat on hand, I use it to sauté the chicken for an extra flavor boost (and because that's the fat most used in southwest France), but any neutral-tasting oil will do. Either way, the chicken should be tender, cooked through, and well-seasoned. Then it's a matter of sautéing an onion, a healthy amount of garlic, and a heap of smoked sausage to create a flavor base that will carry through the entire dish. A bit of tomato paste ups the umami quotient, and a splash of white wine contributes just enough acid to balance the richness.From there, everything gets gently folded together with cooked white beans (canned or home-cooked), spread in a shallow dish (either a gratin or a heavy skillet), topped with breadcrumbs, and baked until bubbling hot on the inside and crunchy-golden on top. Add a green salad, and you've got one of the most enduring and satisfying bean-and-meat dishes ever.
Spaghetti squash tastes nothing like spaghetti, but it has an unusual noodle-like quality that’s versatile enough for a variety of main or side dishes. Think of this casserole as a slightly healthier macaroni and cheese. Slideshow: More Spaghetti Squash Recipes