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Make-Ahead Casseroles

Make-ahead casseroles mean quick and easy dinners! MORE+ LESS-
By TBSP Susan

Having casseroles in the freezer for an impromptu dinner party or potluck can be a life-saver, but most casseroles can also be made a day ahead as well and taste even better than when cooked fresh.

Most casseroles can be made in advance, but there are some tips to keep them fresh and tasty on the day you serve them. You should know a little about how to freeze foods and what types of food work best for make ahead meals.

Freezer Tips

While it’s true that you can keep most foods frozen almost indefinitely and still eat them safely, the longer you freeze them, the more the quality suffers. When it comes to casseroles, the USDA recommends freezing no longer than two to three months. It’s also important to remember that when storing any food in the freezer, make sure it’s in an airtight container. Freezer burn is caused by air getting into a food package and slowly dehydrating it. Double wrap a casserole dish in freezer-wrap for extra prevention.

If you want to store several casseroles in the freezer but don’t want to tie up that many pans, you can use this tip. Line a casserole dish with a layer of tinfoil sprayed with cooking oil. Put the casserole into the dish and freeze until solid. Then, pop the casserole out of the dish and store it in the freezer in its tinfoil package. Always make sure to label and date your freezer goods!

Foods That Freeze

Basically, almost anything can be frozen, but foods like cheese can be a little trickier because the fats will separate and the texture and flavor can suffer. If you have a casserole dish that has a lot of cheese, add the cheese after you thaw it or plan on making that dish a day ahead of time instead of relegating it to the freezer. The same goes for casseroles with cream-based sauces. You can choose to freeze the primary ingredients and add the sauce later. And, it’s always a good idea when you’re planning on freezing a casserole to slightly undercook it. This way, when you reheat it, you avoid overcooking. A final freezer tip: always thaw out your casseroles at least a day ahead of time to ensure even heating.

Types of Casseroles

Most people love casseroles because they’re homey and comforting. Several casserole standards can start you thinking, and from there it’s a matter of adding ingredients and herbs that strike your fancy. Remember to always cook meats before putting them in the casserole dish since the varied timing involved in cooking raw vegetables and meat can be problematic. If you prefer softer veggies, consider cooking those before you mix them too.

Tasty breakfast and brunch casseroles may include a combination of eggs, potatoes and sausage mixed in with savory herbs such as tarragon and marjoram. Substitute meats like chorizo, bacon or cubed ham for variations. You can also add in roasted peppers, blanched broccoli, spinach or mushrooms. One word about using high water content veggies like mushrooms and spinach; always press out as much water as possible before mixing them in so your casserole doesn’t get soggy. Additionally, you’ll need to add in the eggs right before baking the casserole for best results.

For dinners and potlucks, try combinations of pastas, cheeses, meat and vegetables. Other favorites include Mexican-style casseroles with layers of meat, beans, corn tortillas, cheese and salsa. It’s best to use corn tortillas since they are sturdier and hold up better to the moisture of the dish. Flour tortillas often end up soggy which isn't nearly as appetizing.

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