Saturday, November 26, 2011

broccoli casserole

broccoli casserole is The Dish in my family. it's the dish that's certain to be there at any holiday and which, strangely, we only make for holidays. i honestly can't figure out why that is, because it's easy and quick to toss together and isn't totally unhealthy and is immensely delicious. every year i'm like, why don't i make this all the time? and then i don't do it until the next holiday. maybe it's my subconscious trying to keep it extra-special.

i used to have to call my mom every thanksgiving to get the recipe for this. i have no clue where it originated, but i can't remember a thanksgiving or christmas without it. i've been making it for the last few years just based on remembered amounts and what looks right. my brother has now taken up the mantle of annual recipe-transcribing calls to my mom and my mom actually called me this year to ask a question about covering it or not.

i find it comforting to know that even though i wasn't able to be with my parents or my brother this thanksgiving, this casserole was being made and enjoyed in texas, oregon, and arizona. no doubt we will each be making it for christmas, too. it's nice to have traditions that are so good to eat.

first, preheat the oven to 375. then you need a whole mess of broccoli. i used 6 smallish stalks - i think it was about 6 cups or so. the wonderful thing about casseroles, though, is that you don't need totally exact amounts.

peel the tough outer parts from the stems, then slice them into ~1/4" pieces (you can cut the pieces in halves or quarters if the stems are thick). then cut the florets into bite-sized pieces.

these are most of the other illustrious ingredients. you need two eggs, 3/4 - 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup greek yogurt (or you can probably change the percentage of mayonnaise and yogurt - 1/2 and 1/2, etc. you just usually want about 1 1/2 cups combined), a can of condensed cream of celery soup (i know, i know. this is literally the only time i ever use canned soups. if you can find something that tastes just like campbell's cream of celery soup, you're welcome to use it instead. i'm sticking with tradition here), ~1/3 of a medium-large onion (minced), and about 8-10 ounces of extra sharp grated cheddar.

i think the extra sharpness of the cheddar is really important here, so don't chicken out and go with medium sharp or something. extra sharp or bust!

i like to mix everything up in a big bowl and add a lot of freshly-ground black pepper and a little bit of salt (the mayo, cheese, soup, etc. are pretty salty, so don't go overboard. i used less than a teaspoon). then add the broccoli pieces and mix it all around so that it gets fully coated. if it seems a little dry, add more mayonnaise and/or yogurt. it should basically be well-coated but not swimming. again, casseroles are pretty forgiving.

then put it in a casserole dish. this is a cast iron enamel-covered one, which i like because it has a cover and seems to heat things really evenly. and it is pretty. but you could also use a regular pan and cover it with aluminum foil.

the crispy topping is an area of contention in my family. okay, just with me. everyone else puts crumbled ritz crackers on top, and if that's your thing, go for it. i am just not a ritz cracker person (lime-vanilla icebox cake notwithstanding), so i usually use breadcrumbs or panko. i was out of panko this time, so i used 1 slice of sourdough and 1/2 slice of whole wheat bread, crumbled up with a tiny bit of olive oil and a little salt. my bread was pretty dry already, so i just put some oil and salt on my hands and kind of rubbed them over the bread to crumble it. you could also just whiz them up in a food processor or chop them or whatever. i don't need to tell you how to crumble bread.

then just stick it in the oven for awhile. i leave the lid on for the first 40 minutes or so, then take it off so the top browns nicely. it should take maybe a little over an hour in total, but it depends on how deep your pan is. just use a sharp knife to stick into a broccoli stem near the top and if it goes in easily, it should be about done. basically the cheese/soup/mayonnaise gets all custardy, so if there's still a little softness in the center, it's probably okay. you want to let it set up a little after you take it out of the oven - 10 minutes' rest should do it.

this is a really forgiving casserole, though, so just play with it. i cooked ours at our house, then reheated it for about 15 minutes when we were about to eat and it was fine. more than fine, actually. it was incredibly delicious, as usual, and i once again vowed to make it more often.

this thanksgiving, people outdid themselves with delicious things. we had: great appetizers (crackers, goat cheese, homemade jalapeno jelly, pickled cherries, roasted hazelnuts, pickled okra, bread & butter pickles), green bean casserole, broccoli casserole, sweet potatoes with an amazing streusel crust (much better than marshmallows), turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread dressing (aka stuffing, if you are not from the south), rolls, cranberry sauce, salad, a 6-tier chocolate caramel cake, Mike's Famous Pie, and pumpkin pie. it was sort of insane, since there were only like a dozen of us, but also it was sort of magical. and extremely tasty.

i love this thanksgiving potluck-with-friends tradition and it just gets better every year. thanks for hosting, clifton and shantelle! and thanks for giving me the recipe so many times over the years, mom!

~6 cups chopped broccoli
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise/yogurt (usually ~1 cup mayonnaise to 1/2 cup yogurt, but it's up to you)
1 can condensed cream of celery soup
~1/3 of an onion, minced (~1/3 cup)
2 eggs
8-10 ounces shredded extra-sharp cheddar
salt and pepper
breadcrumbs (or ritz crackers) - enough to cover the casserole - i used 1 1/2 slices of bread

mix all the ingredients except the broccoli and the breadcrumbs. mix in the broccoli, stick it in a pan and top with breadcrumbs. simple!

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