Reinvent the common casserole

By Twinkle VanWinkle

»Casseroles are the definition of simple, comfort food. Delicious ingredients, mixed together and baked in a pan, oftentimes loaded with cheesy goodness, have been a staple of many households over the last 50 years or so. Sometimes I wish everything could be baked in a casserole. Life would so easy.

But a casserole every day can get stale and boring. My solution to that is to change a few things around. First, try new ingredients. Skip the cream of fill-in-the-blank and make your base from scratch. A quick chicken stock and heavy cream with fresh herbs and spices are a great adjustment. Second, go for some stinky cheese. Most traditional casseroles have some form of shredded cheddar. Although I am a true believer in sharp cheddar cheese, blending it with some good Parmesan, or even Gorgonzola, gives new life to an old favorite.

Lastly, change how you serve your casserole. Flip the script and let your hand-me-down Pyrex take a break. This spaghetti squash recipe is the perfect example. Save the squash skins and refill and bake. Serve something new and different with an old-fashioned twist.


Spaghetti Squash and Sweet Potato Casserole
Makes 4 large or 8 small servings

2 medium spaghetti squash
4 medium sweet potatoes
½ cup olive oil
½ pound shrimp
1 medium yellow onion, diced finely
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1½ cups shredded extra sharp white cheddar
½ cup Gorgonzola
2 cups panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Slice spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and rub with olive oil inside and out.

Place on pans and roast for 30 to 45 minutes until insides are soft and pull away from the outside.

Once roasted, let cool and pull “spaghetti” out with a fork. Save the skins for the casserole.

Use the same pan and roast sweet potatoes tossed in olive oil for approximately 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool.

Reduce heat to 350 F.

While veggies are roasting, peel and sauté shrimp on medium high in a little olive oil with onion and garlic until onions are translucent and shrimp is pink.

Pour in wine, herbs and spices and reduce to medium low and cook down for about 10 minutes.

While cooking down, mix together cheeses in a large bowl. Set aside 1/3 of the mix for a topping.

After sweet potatoes, squash and shrimp are all cooked, toss together with the cheese in the big bowl.

Top with breadcrumbs and then the leftover cheese and bake until cheese is melted and just begins to brown.

Run under broiler for 2 minutes to finish the melt, then serve warm.

Twinkle VanWinkle is an Indianapolis-based food writer and experienced chef with Southern roots. She has more than 23 years of professional cooking under her apron strings and loves to share her unique perspective on food, foodways and culture with others. Needless to say, her family is very well-fed.