Best bets for family-style winter casseroles

Having a repertoire of easy-to-heat, homemade dinners that can be made for the freezer and ready at a moment’s notice is great winter strategy.

It’s deep dish season once again. There must be a direct correlation between the subfreezing temperature outside and the making of hearty, bubbling, golden-brown casseroles - that’s a fact. Having a repertoire of easy-to-heat, homemade dinners that can be made for the freezer and ready at a moment’s notice is great kitchen strategy. Here’s how to begin.

Get your kitchen ready for the deep freeze

As winter rolls in, stock your pantry with whole grain pasta, grains, beans, and legumes. All of these ingredients can be used to make simple family casseroles that also hold up well in the freezer.

Cold winter months lend themselves toward oven-ready pasta dinners layered with cheese, root vegetables, and proteins such as ground beef, turkey, or soy. For quick deep-dish recipes, use precooked, dried lasagna-sheet pasta ready for baking. (They don’t have to be boiled first.) Simply layer these sheets in pans with ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and your favorite marinara sauce. Favorite chopped and sautéed vegetables can be added to your layered pasta dish, as can any ground protein such as beef, turkey, and chicken. Cook these in a sauté pan with fresh or dried Italian herbs and then layer with the pasta and cheese.

Chef secrets

Use a shaped pasta instead of flat sheets for pasta al forno. Cook rigatoni, penne, or bowties so they’re firm to the bite (al dente) then use for the base of a lasagna-type dish in place of traditional lasagna sheets.

Grains such as rice, barley, and quinoa can be cooked and portioned in plastic bags, then frozen for ease all season. You may take them out of the freezer the day before incorporating into a recipe such as simple fried rice. Toss in cooked chicken, shrimp, tofu, and chopped vegetables and dinner will only take you minutes.

Beans and legumes are hearty and filling and they freeze very well. Burritos can be made by rolling cooked black, pinto, or kidney beans with cheese in whole grain tortilla or burrito skins, placed in freezer pans, and topped with cheese and salsa. All of these comfort foods can be made in large quantities, enough to last until spring returns.

Best bets for the season

  • Hard squash of any kind
  • Beets
  • Leeks
  • Asian greens
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Fennel
  • Collards
  • Potatoes
  • Turnips

A pioneer in the marriage of good taste and sound nutrition, Steven Petusevsky, or "Chef Steve" is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, where he was awarded a fellowship and served as Chef Instructor. He has also been the National Director of Creative Food Development for Whole Foods Market, the largest natural food retail chain in the country. A widely published columnist in magazines and newspapers such as Natural Health, Fine Cooking, the Los Angeles Times, and Food & Wine, and a nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune, he is also the author of the The Whole Foods Market Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide to Natural Foods (2002, Random House).

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