THE KITCHEN DIVA: Casseroles are one-dish wonders

By Angela Shelf Medearis

The shape, size and construction materials of casserole dishes have changed over its centuries-old history. (Depositphotos)

I was looking for a baking pan in the back of a cupboard and inadvertently discovered I have quite a collection of casserole dishes. I started thinking about all the casserole recipes I’ve collected over the years. When I was a newlywed and novice cook almost 46 years ago, preparing a casserole was my “go-to” dinner recipe.

I decided to do some research on the origin of the casserole, and I discovered a photo of an ancient casserole dish in a museum in Athens, Greece. Casseroles, both the dish and various recipes, have had a long and interesting culinary history.

There’s some debate about the origin of the term “casserole” but most culinary historians think it’s from the French word for “saucepan.” Casseroles come in a variety of styles, but what they all have in common is that they are typically a large, deep dish used both in the oven and as a serving vessel. The word casserole also is used for the food cooked and served in the dish. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America provides detailed information about casseroles:

“Casserole cookery has been around since prehistoric times, when it was discovered that cooking food slowly in a tightly covered clay vessel softened fibrous meats and blended succulent juices. With the addition or subtractions of leftovers or inexpensive cuts of meat, the casserole is flexible and economical in terms of both ingredients and effort. The classic casserole, a French dish, was originally made with a mound of cooked rice. Fannie Meritt Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896) had one casserole recipe, for Casserole of Rice and Meat, to be steamed for 45 minutes and served with tomato sauce.

“In the 20th century, casseroles took on a distinctive American identity. During the depression of the 1890s, the economic casserole provided a welcome way to stretch meat, fish and poultry. Certain items also were scarce during World War I, and leftovers were turned into casserole meals. The same was true during the Great Depression of the 1930s.”

The casseroles we know today became popular in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Typically, casseroles are composed of a meat, starch, creamy sauce (after 1934, it was usually a creamed soup from a can) and a vegetable. Casseroles are an economical, one-pot meal, and can be prepared in advance for breakfast, lunch or dinner. During the 1950s-’70s, casseroles became an easy way for a busy cook, and a modern workforce composed of women, to prepare the family meal ahead of time.

Today, casseroles have been updated to include a variety of ingredients from lobster and tofu to made-from-scratch sauces and locally grown vegetables. The shape, size and construction materials of casserole dishes have also changed over its centuries-old history. However, the purpose of the casserole is still the same, to bring a familiar container of comfort food to the ones we love.

Bring a little comfort to your family and friends with this Sausage and Gumbo Casserole With Garlic Toast Topping, and enjoy a little history with each bite!




1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1/4 cup instant roux mix, like Tony Chachere’s Creole Instant Roux Mix

1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, like Rotel’s

1 (32-ounce) container chicken broth

1 (16-ounce) package frozen okra

1 cup quick-cooking rice, uncooked

1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 (12-ounce) French baguette, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

Fresh parsley, finely chopped for garnish


  1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over high heat, 1-2 minutes. Add the sausage, green bell pepper and onion. Saute the sausage mixture for 8 minutes or until browned; stir in roux mix. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in tomatoes, chicken broth, okra, rice, Cajun seasoning and thyme. Bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat. Pour into a 13- by 9-inch baking dish.
  3. Stir together butter and garlic; brush on one side of bread slices. Top sausage mixture evenly with bread slices, buttered side up.
  4. Bake, covered, at 425 F for 10 minutes. Then, uncover casserole dish and bake 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired. Makes 8 to 10 servings.


Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her latest cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.


© 2021 King Features Synd., Inc., and Angela Shelf Medearis

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