Not-Your-Aunt-Berta's Casserole June 17 2015 2 Comments

I don’t know if I am correct in this thinking, but to me, casserole dishes seem to be a thing of the Midwest. Because casseroles were an uncommon sighting where I grew up in Southern California, most of my knowledge of these dishes came from movies and cartoons with casserole cameos. For that reason, the following scene is what I picture when I hear someone say “I’ll bring a casserole!” (click here to skip my blabbering and get straight to the recipe).

Scene: I am hosting a dinner party, when a large number of relatives show up unexpectedly (I am Greek, so this would not be unusual). I’m wondering what I am going to feed them all, and I confess my worries to my aunt, who in this scenario, is named Aunt Berta. Aunt Berta is a fictitious member of my family, but for whatever reason, she appears whenever I think of casserole. She’s large and loud and boisterous.

Aunt Berta: “Oh don’t wahrry, dahrling, I brough caaassserrroolle.” She slaps a dish of food down in front of me. It’s big, and green and gelatinous. There are lumpy bits in it. It jiggles. I gulp.

This is exactly what I imagine every time I hear the word “casserole.” For this reason, I have steered clear of both eating and making them my entire life. Now, before all of you casserole-supporters get all up and arms about this, please, don’t be offended. I’m an imaginative person. As I child, I was convinced that my babysitter was a vampire and that raccoons could talk. These things - like green, lumpy casserole and my big and boisterous Aunt Berta - are a figment of my imagination. Because for the first time in my life, I decided to try and make a casserole, and it was delicious.

Cue angelic lighting and voices singing - yes, I made a delicious casserole. At least I am calling it a casserole, because I still am not really sure what casseroles are besides dishes containing every leftover thing in your pantry that you needed to get rid of, and that’s what this was. And it wasn’t green, jiggly, or lumpy.

So, are you ready to hear how I made it? Well, you can’t. It’s a family secret, passed on from Aunt Berta to Aunt Berta through every generation. Ha!

Just kidding. I made it up this week. :)

* Please note – this is not a quick meal. It takes some prep time, so the best way to do it would be to cook the butternut squash all day in a crockpot so it’s ready for you to use by dinner! You also may want to peel and slice the sweet potatoes the day before. I had them all sliced and ready to go because I had extras (uncooked) from a scalloped sweet potato dish I made earlier in the week (sharing that recipe soon!)

Not-Your-Aunt-Berta’s Casserole (Paleo Friendly Options!)

Makes a full 9 x 13 pan

Ingredients:

  • Thinly sliced sweet potatoes (2 small, or 1 large) cooked (I steamed mine)
  • 1 butternut squash (small) cooked and pureed with just a little bit of milk (I used almond)
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and cut into cubes or shredded, whatever makes you happy
  • 1 small jar of capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small package of cherry tomatoes sautéed in ghee (or butter)
  • 1 large box of spinach, sautéed in ghee (trust me and use a whole box, it cooks down to nothing)
  • 1 package of feta (optional, I used sheep’s milk feta)
  • Small sprinkling of parmesan for on top (optional – organic preferred)
  • Herbs de provence (fancy name for mixture of savory, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, and lavender) for seasoning
  • Red, black, or wild rice, or quinoa to serve the casserole with (totally optional)

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 400. Cut your butternut squash in half, and place it face down in a shallow pan filled with water. Pop it in ye old oven to cook until soft (45 min to an hour).
  • Place the chicken breasts in a small glass dish with a little bit of oil and herbs de provence seasoning. Put in the oven (it can bake at the same temp as the squash) and bake for about 25 minutes until cooked all the way through and juices run clear.
  • Get a small amount of water boiling to steam your sweet potatoes.
  • Peel and thinly slice (I used a mandolin slicer) your sweet potatoes. Place them in a steamer basket in your boiling water and steam them until just fork-tender soft (about 10-15 minutes).
  • If you are going to serve the casserole with a side of rice, get that cooking now.
  • While your squash, chicken and potatoes are cooking, sauté up your tomatoes and spinach until soft (about 5 minutes).
  • Grease up a 9 x 13 glass pan with some butter or ghee, and layer your steamed sweet potatoes on bottom. Top with cooked spinach, tomatoes, and capers, and a little bit of parmesan and sheep’s cheese (save most of the cheese for the top though, things look tastier when they are smothered in cheese).
  • When cooked, puree your butternut squash with a little milk.
  • Cut up your chicken into little pieces, and mix it up with the squash puree to make some creamy chicken-y goodness. Layer it on top of the spinach and tomatoes and season with more herbs de provence (because you’re a fancy French person).
  • Top it with the feta and parmesan, and place it back in the oven to melt the cheese down a little and warm the whole thing through.
    • If you want, you can place the oven on broil to make the dish golden on top, but watch it like a hawk, because I have ruined many a dish by essentially cremating it on broil.

Once cheese is melted and dish is heated through (~5 minutes at 400, with a 30-second round on broil if you want), you’re done! Hooray!

Admittedly, this dish takes some serious prep time, but the great news is that if you have a small family, it will give you leftovers for several days. If you get sick of the leftovers, just freeze the rest and thaw it when you need a quick meal!

I hope you enjoy it, and let us know how it turns out for you! Have any crazy casserole stories or favorite casserole dishes? Share them in the comments below!

Elanie Girlando
Elanie graduated with a BA degree in Biology and Environmental Science from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and an MS degree in Occupational and Environmental Health from the University of Iowa. She enjoys all things biology, ecology, health, and science. Elanie is an amateur but avid chef, and she loves to find new ways to make healthy living the most delicious and exciting experience it can be.