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The 6 Most Common Casserole Mistakes

The 6 Most Common Casserole Mistakes

Because nobody likes watery casseroles and undercooked pasta

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Of course, you can eat casseroles all year long, but they hold a special spot in our hearts during the colder seasons. When raindrops hit your window and the grey sky is trying its hardest to darken your mood, casseroles simply taste the best.

And there are plenty more reasons to love them. They are the perfect dish for a large group, can be frozen and kept in stock, and are adjustable and easy to prepare. Some people even claim that you don’t need a recipe for one, if the only requirement is to throw some ingredients into a casserole dish and bake it with cheese on top. But this isn’t doing casseroles justice, and you’ll agree if you’ve ever failed a casserole dish. 

Here are the 6 common mistakes that you should avoid when baking a casserole next time:

1. Casseroles and gratins are the same dish.

Let’s start with dry theory. Yes, there actually IS a difference between a casserole and a gratin. Both are baked in the oven, but a gratin is a special form of a casserole. When cooking it, you will layer the ingredients instead of just adding them all together. In most cases, a gratin is also served as a side dish, not a main, and it has a signature crust that has to be, well, gratinated. This is why there are potato gratins but rarely pasta gratins—however, a lasagna is actually a gratin. Lesson learned!

2. A casserole just tastes bland.

Did you ever have the sad experience of eating a bland casserole that you had to heavily season on your plate? This happens when you only season a whole casserole right before baking. Instead, you should pay full attention to each ingredient you’re using. Let say, you’re making baked creamy pasta with broccoli—add enough salt to the pasta, season the cream sauce to taste, and don’t forget the broccoli. 

3. The pasta is undercooked, and why is there so much liquid everywhere?

You’ve been waiting for your casserole for so long, and the whole apartment smells of it, but when you finally dig in, the pasta is undercooked and there’s way too much liquid on the bottom of the pan. To prevent this, you should precook ingredients with longer cooking times. This will take approx. 5 min. for pasta and 10 – 15 min. for bigger pieces of potato—but it will be worth it. Ingredients with a shorter cooking time only need to be cut smaller to soften during baking in the oven. 

However, it’s also possible to use raw potato slices in a gratin and even uncooked pasta in lasagna or cannelloni. In this case though, you should always use enough liquid in the form of a sauce. For gratins, there is an approximate ratio of 1:3 for sauce to potatoes. For baked pasta, make sure that all pasta is covered with sauce so it won’t dry out or even burn in the oven. If you’re precooking potatoes and pasta, this rule does not apply, because they can’t absorb much more liquid than they already have. 

Four-cheese and tomato baked penne

Four-cheese and tomato baked penne

4. The cheese crust is not crispy.

If you’re life motto is “As long as there’s cheese on it...,” you probably love the world of casseroles. But cheese alone will often not do the job of achieving a crispy crust. First of all, it’s important to choose the right cheese. Soft cheeses like mozzarella and Gouda melt wonderfully, but if you want it crispy, better use hard cheeses like Gruyere, Parmesan or Emmentaler. If you want to go the extra mile, mix in some breadcrumbs, roasted onions, or chopped nuts. 

Mac and cheese

Mac and cheese

5. The casserole is burned on top, but still raw inside.

Before baking your casserole, make sure to think about the right temperature. Especially if you have a cream sauce, don’t set it too high. Better start at approx. 180°C/350°F, then increase the temperature for the last 10 – 15 minutes to get that golden brown cheese crust. You can also use your oven’s broiler. In contrast, if you notice that your baked dish gets too dark too quickly, cover it with aluminum foil, turn down the temperature, and give it time to bake until done. 

6. The casserole falls apart while serving.

Here’s the last tip before starting to eat. You’re just before the finish line, as you cut the lasagna, but as soon as you transfer it onto a plate it just falls apart. Why, oh why? As difficult as it seems to you (and us): Let a casserole sit for several minutes before serving. Yes, these might be the toughest five minutes of your life, but the casserole (and your tongue) will be very thankful!

Vegan spinach and mushroom lasagna

Vegan spinach and mushroom lasagna

Do you have more tips for the perfect casserole? Share them in the comments or upload your favorite casserole recipe to our app to share it with our hungry Kitchen Stories community.

Published on November 4, 2017

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