There are casseroles for every meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner and even dessert! Most people think casseroles are a cheap and easy way to use up leftover items in the fridge or pantry, but they can also be a gourmet meal with the right ingredients. Our friend Mary from Healthy Christian Home has shared with us her Tomato Casserole that features a premium ingredient: our award-winning Cloud 9® Bite-Sized Fruity Tomatoes.

The most marvelous thing about casseroles is that they can go straight from the oven to the table, which means there’s almost no clean up. Once all the ingredients are combined and put in the oven, there’s nothing else that needs to be done! Like that famous saying goes: just set it and forget it.

It’s easy to compartmentalize casseroles into the traditional broccoli, green bean, or macaroni factions, but really, let your creativity shine! All you need is a blend of flavorful ingredients that work well together and suddenly you have a dish meal that makes life a little bit easier, tastes great and saves you time.

tomato casserole in baking dish

To be successful when it comes to casserole creation, you need to keep some things in mind. Mary has given us some tips for making her gourmet casserole that will ensure success every time. It can be applied to all casseroles, whatever the combination of ingredients!

Choose the right baking dish.

There are many different types of baking dishes out there: metal, glass, ceramic and disposable foil. Be aware that each type of material can affect the total cooking time of your casserole. Metal and glass heat up a lot faster than a ceramic dish, so if you’re in a hurry to bake your casserole, choose the dish that will best suit the time you have.

The depth of the baking dish is also a factor. A shallow dish will cook more quickly and offers more surface area for browning and crisping. If you are looking for a crunchier topping to your casserole, going with a shallow dish will help you achieve that.

You also need to factor in the size of the baking dish as well. For example, an oval 10-inch dish will hold less volume than a rectangular 10-inch dish. Your casserole should fill no more than three-quarters of the height of the dish to prevent it from overflowing in the oven. It’s always a good idea to place the dish on a baking sheet to catch whatever bubbles over. The whole point of the casserole is to save time on cleaning by using only one dish, you don’t want to have to clean the whole oven afterwards!

Removing Extra Moisture

The greatest enemy of the casserole is excess moisture. Nobody likes a soupy casserole. The main contributor to soggy casseroles is frozen vegetables. It’s best to use fresh veggies any time you can! Pure Flavor® has a wide variety of veggies that can be the prime ingredients for a gourmet casserole. From our Craft House Collection Baby Eggplants, Aurora Long Sweet Peppers and Mini San Marzano Tomatoes, these premium ingredients were developed and grown for the Chef in You!

The same can be said about canned ingredients too. For Mary’s casserole it’s best to use soaked and home-cooked beans. If you’re short on time and need to use canned beans, thoroughly drain and rinse the beans, then set them out on paper towel and pat them dry to remove that excess moisture.

tomato casserole with shredded cheese on top

Say Cheese

Cheese is often cast in the starring role of the casserole, but it should be a supporting actor. Some cheeses will overpower the other flavors, while others won’t melt, but can be used to enhance the flavor. Reduced fat and low-fat cheeses will never taste as good as the real thing and often will not produce that ooey-gooey factor you are looking for. Packaged shredded cheese, while definitely a time saver, has less moisture than a block of cheese you would shred yourself, and can make your casserole turn out drier than expected.

Be in tune with what cheese pairs well with the ingredients you are using in your casserole. For Mary’s casserole, she suggests using parmesan because it complements the tomato and basil, plus it enhances the umami flavor.

Finishing Touches

Lots of casseroles have a crispy, crunchy topping. Traditionally a mixture of breadcrumbs and seasonings are sprinkled on the top, but to level up your casserole, you can use a variety of creative ingredients: potato chips, fried onions, crumbled bacon, corn chips and even cereal! If you are making your casserole ahead of time, wait until just before you bake it in the oven to apply the topping so that it remains dry and will achieve that desired crunch.

While the whole point of making a casserole is to get the food on the table quickly, you will want to allot some time to let the casserole rest before you dig in. A casserole right out of the oven has all its liquids bubbling and if you cut into it, you’re risking a collapse and a heaping mess. Letting it sit for 15 to 20 minutes gives the casserole time to firm up and settle. Your patience will be rewarded!

Tomato and farro in glass bowl

Tomato Casserole

Mary’s Tomato Casserole is simple to make and will leave your family saying “Wow!” First, you start with the base of the casserole, which is a hearty bread of your choosing. Mary suggests using a high-quality whole grain bread, not just a cheap loaf. She recommends sourdough, but anything from a good bakery will do.  Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and slice an onion thinly. Spread both out on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, toss to coat evenly and bake it in the oven at 400° F for 8 to 10 minutes until golden.

While your bread chunks are baking, combine our Cloud 9® Bite-Sized Fruity Tomatoes, bean, pesto, fresh basil, seasonings, and garlic in a large bowl. Mary leaves half the tomatoes whole and cuts the rest in half. When the bread mixture is finished baking, add it to the bowl and toss everything together.

Pour the mixture into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish and top generously with parmesan cheese. Put it into the 400° F oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the top of the casserole is golden brown. Let it rest after taking it out of the oven for at least 15 minutes before serving.

To get Mary’s entire Tomato Casserole recipe, click here.

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