The comfort of casseroles


They are one-dish wonders that go right from oven to table, bubbling hot and trailing rich aromas.

Casseroles are comforting and a breeze to make. In "The Big Book of Casseroles" (Chronicle Books, $19.95), veteran cookbook author Maryana Vollstedt offers 250 recipes, from main courses to side dishes. Prepare several on a weekend, then freeze them for later use. Or make one for a dinner party; then pop it in the oven and spend more time with your guests.

Shrimp, Tomatoes, Rice and Feta Cheese

Serves 6

1 1/4 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 large tomatoes, seeded, chopped and drained

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth

2 1/2 cups cooked white rice

4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper. In large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter with oil.

Add garlic and shrimp and saute until shrimp turns pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Add oregano, parsley, tomatoes, wine and broth and simmer 5 minutes.

Transfer to a 2 1/2 -quart casserole dish lightly coated with cooking spray or oil.

Add rice and mix well. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Bake, uncovered, until heated through, 20 to 25 minutes.

Chicken With Olives and Tangy Beer-Tomato Sauce

Serves 6

1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste

1 cup beer, allowed to go flat

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can (4 ounces) diced green chilies, drained

1 chicken (3 to 3 1/2 pounds), cut into serving pieces

salt and pepper

cooking spray or oil

1 cup pitted black olives, drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, whisk together tomato paste, beer, salt, garlic and chilies. Set aside.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place in 4-quart casserole dish lightly coated with cooking spray or oil. Pour sauce over chicken. Cover and bake until chicken is no longer pink in center, about 1 hour. Add olives and cook, uncovered, 5 minutes longer.

Barley-Zucchini Pilaf

Serves 4

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1 clove garlic, minced

2 1/2 cups canned, low-sodium chicken broth or water

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

1 cup pearl barley, rinsed well in cold water and drained

cooking spray or oil

1 carrot, peeled and grated

2 zucchini, unpeeled, grated and blotted dry

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium skillet over medium heat, warm oil. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth, thyme, salt, pepper and barley. Stir and bring to a boil.

Transfer barley mixture to a 2 1/2 -quart casserole dish lightly coated with cooking spray or oil. Add carrots. Cover and bake 40 minutes. Stir in zucchini and parsley. Cover and bake until liquid is absorbed and zucchini is tender, 25 to 30 minutes more.

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