A Love Letter to Casseroles and a Local Chef’s Favorite Recipe

Casserole is perhaps the ultimate comfort food – warm, rich and timeless.


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The word casserole comes from cassa, which means pan in the French Provençal dialect. While it technically refers to the cooking vessel, it’s also come to be synonymous with the food itself. I have often said that I was raised on dishes that started out with a pound of ground beef and a can of soup. Folks in Minnesota cover it with tater tots and call it hotdish. Some of these childhood medleys were pretty good, others just ghastly. But I’ve always appreciated a casserole’s completeness. Everything that makes a meal is right in that baking dish: meat, starch, vegetables (usually peas, maybe corn).

When we think about casseroles, it’s often in the form of a specific one. For instance, I think immediately of tuna casserole, which I liked well enough growing up. It had to be really thick, with noodles and peas topped with crushed potato chips. And it couldn’t include cheese. Beef stroganoff trips my trigger much more, and we ate a very basic version of it as kids – ground beef, sour cream mixed with (natch) cream of mushroom soup and egg noodles. These days, I would use beef tenderloin and make a sauce of caramelized mushrooms.

Deciding I needed a chef’s take on this lowbrow creation, I turned to Dan Jacobs, chef/co-owner of DanDan and the newer, comfort-food-focused Fool’s Errand. Jacobs is a man of strong food opinions. Tuna casserole is a big no for him. (He can’t stand hot tuna.) Like me, his childhood was filled with foods that came from a box or can. When his mom, who worked full-time, cooked from scratch, it was on the weekend. And it was beef brisket. “When you braise carrots or braise anything, it reminds me of that,” he says of her brisket. “French toast is also one of those [comfort food] things for me – and fried bologna sandwiches we’d eat while camping.”

Jacobs and business partner Dan Van Rite breathed all that nostalgia into the menu at Fool’s Errand. Though there isn’t a casserole on the menu, you will find a decadent mac and cheese, featured elsewhere in this story. The casserole that resonates in a personal way for Jacobs is that creamy noodle, meat and mushroom concoction, turkey tetrazzini. How that dish came to be is a bit fuzzy, though the first mentions of it in print date to the early 1900s, and the name was inspired by Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini. Jacobs shared his recipe here, which uses leftover turkey, but you can easily substitute chicken.


Recipe

Dan Jacobs’ Turkey Tetrazzini

Photo by Getty Images

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • ½ cup onions, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb mixed mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups chicken stock or store-bought broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 lbs leftover roast turkey, chopped (about 5 cups)
  • 1 cup Swiss cheese, chopped or shredded
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 3 tbsp chopped oregano
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb cooked spaghetti
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs

Instructions:

  1. Coat a 9-by-11-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a wide pot, heat the canola oil on medium-high. Add onions, garlic and mushrooms, and cook until lightly colored.
  3. Add white wine and reduce until there is almost no liquid. Add butter and let it melt. Add flour and co
  4. Whisk in chicken stock (or broth) and cream. Whisk until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3-5 minutes.
  5. Add turkey, Swiss cheese, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, oregano and peas. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add the cooked pasta and place in baking dish.
  7. Mix Parmesan and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees, until cheese is melted and breadcrumbs are golden. About 20-30 minutes.

 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s December issue.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.