Motherhood

Casserole Mondays

Casserole Mondays

My friend Olivia Villanti has figured out a foolproof dinner for those evenings you crave something warm but have zero energy. Her solution? A casserole made with any ingredients you have on hand. She and her husband love it so much they’ve established Casserole Mondays. “It’s maybe the least sexy name you can think of,” she says. “But this dish is indisputably awesome.” Here’s how to try it…


Five years ago, my husband and I spent a few days at his aunt Martine’s home in the south of France, where I took a series of mental memos on her casual, gracious way of serving guests. For example:

* Large hunks of cheese passed around after dinner. Noted.
* Half carafes of rosé at lunch and Magnum ice cream bars for dessert. Also noted.
* Delicious casseroles constructed with what she called “nothing in the fridge.” Game changer.

I watched her effortlessly feed 10 of us one night with a layered casserole of vegetables, cheese, tons of herbs and leftover bread. It was elegant and mouthwatering, and she hadn’t even stopped by the market to pick up ingredients that day.

Now, after years of making Martine’s casseroles at home, I’m confident that it’s a universally fantastic trick. The one non-negotiable is a good cast iron Dutch oven or crock-pot with a lid. From there, start mining for whatever you’ve got in the fridge.

The “Recipe”

Line the first layer of your crock pot or Dutch oven with a bit of oil and bread. Old bread works great: A stale bagel, the heels of a supermarket loaf, leftover baguette from a wine-and-cheese night. Whatever you’ve got.

Layer by layer, add any vegetables, herbs, and whatever proteins you have on hand. This can literally be anything: onions, garlic, broccoli, potatoes, leeks, zucchini, tomatoes, roasted chicken, tempeh, a few beaten eggs… anything! Season with salt and pepper as you go.

Top everything off with cheese, add some milk (I use a cup of almond milk if I have root vegetables that need to cook, less if I’m working with more delicate veggies), and throw in the oven for an hour at 425F.

olivia-villanti-baby

I can confidently say this casserole, with its not-so-humble French origins, is one of the most comforting things you can make. With a now four-month-old son, I’ve also found this to be a bulletproof mom dinner.


Thank you so much for sharing, Olivia! I want to try it tonight.

P.S. How to get your kids to talk at dinner.

  1. Sarah says...

    Sadly, I have to comment that mine did not turn out well! I layered leftover bread with sliced carrots, celery, potatoes, beets, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, spinach, and fresh basil, topped with a little feta and mozzarella. I squeezed some lemon juice over a few of the vegetable layers, and topped the whole thing with a cup of milk.

    I think the beets were where I went wrong. They flavored everything… and not pleasantly. Perhaps I also just had too many vegetables? I was trying to use this to truly clean out my vegetable crisper! I hope to try this again with less varieties of veggies, and definitely no beets.

  2. Julia says...

    My whole family loved it, especially the pieces of bread in it! Thank you.

  3. This reminds me a little of strata, except it’s layered rather than combined.

  4. Meghan says...

    This is great for Mondays…but also moving! Our food situation while moving always makes me a little bit sad because we inevitably have to throw out some produce and meats that we cannot donate to local food pantries. We were sitting in our packed-up brownstone last night and I had no idea what to make for dinner since the fridge was mostly empty (we are moving on Saturday).

    Then I remembered this recipe! I was able to clean out the fridge (AND freezer!): sausage, frozen Trader Joe’s sourdough rolls (ermergerd the crust it formed), bell peppers, onions, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus. I even added VANILLA almond milk (hey, it was all I had!), and it turned out delicious. Thank you for giving us this recipe, and for helping empty out my fridge before moving :)

  5. Chris says...

    Love this idea. Usually keep bits and pieces of leftovers in my freezer for soup along with bits and pieces in the refrigerator. So definitely trying this today. Going to use the fat and drippings from last night’s ribs instead of the olive oil and milk. I have a 8×8 pan that will work in my toaster oven for a smaller version instead of my Dutch oven. Shared on my Facebook page, will be interesting to see what versions my friends might try.

  6. Charlene says...

    I, too, thought this recipe seemed an unlikely winner — so much so that in a moment of crazy thinking, I actually wondered if all the rave reviews had been PLANTED. Lol. Am delighted to report that the hype is true! My fridge was pretty bare, so I used: lots of shallots and garlic, frozen bread crusts, carrots, celery, beet greens, a big handful of thyme from the garden, eggs, leftover cheese ends, and a half cup of milk. Salted and peppered generously. The bread formed a crust in my cast iron skillet, so the casserole was like a cross between a quiche and a firm bread pudding. To any other skeptical cooks out there, I highly recommend trying this! So hearty and savory.

  7. susan says...

    I’ve made this twice now! We are a family of 5, so I’ve layered it up in my 7.25 quart Le Creuset. The first time I used 1T of olive oil and the bread was crusted and burned on the bottom something fierce. But, it was good so I wanted to try again! Tonight I used 2T of olive oil and that did the trick. Otherwise followed the recipe exactly and it turned out lovely. I’m looking forward to keeping this up and finding our favorite seasonal combinations as the year goes by!

  8. Jessie says...

    Hi Joanna, do you know how long I cook this for in a crock pot? and is it on low or high? This is a perfect go to meal when my daughters have ballet. Thanks!

    • olivia villanti says...

      hi jessie! i would suggest adding a little bit of time for a slow cooker, an hour and a half to be safe. i think it’s fine to set this to high, just make sure you have enough liquid in your pot and maybe check on it after 45 minutes to see how it’s going. let me know how it turns out!

  9. Cici English says...

    I was very skeptical. My husband was as well. But we had enough last remnants of things not to try: leek, celery, tomatos, zucchini, leftover beef stew, a sweat potato, carrot, bread and park cheese. It came out beautifully. Perfect end of the week hodgepodge. Thank you!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      So happy to hear it!

  10. Kathleen says...

    I didn’t have milk (dairy or vegan) except for coconut milk. A can of full fat coconut milk worked very well. It was delicious! Also, I do not own a dutch oven and didn’t see the part about putting it all in an oven. So, it got cooked in a covered, heavy pot and that is where it did its magic. This tasted so good – imagine what it could taste like with fresher vegetables. It’s a great find – but it makes me feel less impressed with the skills required to be a good cook.

  11. Sally says...

    This reminds me a little of strata, except it’s layered rather than combined.

  12. Emma says...

    I was a bit hesitant but I made this last night and it turned out incredible. Will absolutely be a new weeknight staple. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I am looking forward to trying this on some hectic unplanned night. I am loving all of the comment editions.

  14. Amanda says...

    Cutest baby selfie ever!!!

  15. JMP says...

    Made this tonight… It was amazing. I wish I could post a picture and I wish I could add a smell file… My house smelled like an Italian restaurant. The meal was outstanding. My kids loved it. Thank you so much for such a simple yet easy to please recipe. I can’t wait to make it again!!!

  16. Natalie says...

    Made this last night and it was amazing-tasted like Thanksgiving dinner! I put homemade bread crumbs, leftover roasted yams, onions, garlic, parsley and a cup of milk with lots of salt and pepper. Didn’t have any cheese (I know!) but it was still amazing. Thanks for the genius recipe!

  17. Minna says...

    Literally in the oven right now. I was browsing this post while trying to decide what to make for dinner… I made it with bread, sweet potato, carrots, onion, kale, herbs, tomato, fresh mozzarella. If this works, I am making this all the time forever.

  18. Diana says...

    What if I don’t have a Dutch Oven ? Can this go in the crock pot?

    • LP says...

      Yikes! No!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      olivia says yes, that would work!

    • Christie says...

      A Dutch oven is a fancy word for an oven proof pot. We use a big sauce/pasta pot.

  19. This is amazing! I made it tonight as a true fridge clearing of vegetables that were about to go bad (leeks, carrots, zucchini), leftover deli turkey, and random herbs. I also used white wine instead of milk because my husband is lactose intolerant. I can’t believe how well it turned out! I went from a pile of old vegetables and stale bread to a savory, hearty dinner. Plus leftover wine on the side, of course!

    I can’t wait to make this with leftover CSA vegetables this summer. Love it!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      CSA vegetables is a great idea…. and is the white wine addition!

  20. Emily says...

    I’d love to know where her tshirt is from! The casserole sounds great too:)

  21. Lizzie says...

    In my fridge right now: celery, kale, green onions, baby carrots, parsley. I have some old bread, milk and cheese. Are you really telling me this will be good if I bake it all together? I think I am lacking in culinary intelligence because this is confusing to me. How much milk would you use with those ingredients? What does the milk even do? Would you use parmesan, cheddar, or goat cheese? I have dry herbs too, and garlic…would anyone be willing to give me a little more advice? I also have chicken sausage! I didn’t know I could bake them together and I’m scared to try but very curious!

    • Olivia Villanti says...

      Don’t be scared Lizzie! Use the old bread on the bottom (don’t forget to line your pot w/ oil). Add your veggies and chicken sausage in layers and season as you go. Parmesan would be perfect on top + all those herbs. The milk helps cook your veggies and keeps it from drying out. Hope this helps! Good luck!

    • Do it! The chicken sausage would be great. And I’d use Parmesan or cheddar – goat cheese won’t melt like those will. And definitely add the garlic and dry herbs. The milk soaks into the bread and also makes a gravy (think chicken pot pie). It’s so good – try it!

    • Lizzie says...

      Thanks so much for your help – I made it and loved it! I ate the WHOLE thing!!! Tasted just like stuffing, which I love. I’m amazed that I can just throw things in a pot and make it taste good – I feel like a witch! Thank you for teaching me the life-changing magic of casserole. :)

  22. Jess says...

    This is perfect, thanks Olivia! I’m always looking for new veggie friendly main ideas (not to mention would love to use up unused food) and I’m so excited to try this. Love hearing how everyone has already tried different variations too!

  23. Courtney says...

    Soup. I do this with soup, right down to the homemade veggie stock. :-) I love that I have another way to clean out the fridge now!

  24. margaux says...

    we do this but with pizza. we call it the “kitchen sink pizza” b/c everything in our fridge goes on it except (ba-da-bum-ching!) the kitchen sink. i make a super fast, no-yeast pizza dough from the kitchn, add pizza sauce, chopped fresh garlic, then load it up with the leftovers from the week (roast chicken, curried lentil dal, pot roast, roasted cauliflower, chili, what have you), any fresh veggies that have seen better days, a few handfuls of fresh spinach, and piles of shredded mozzarella. drizzle with olive oil and bake. we LOVE it, and we’re always surprised by what works (the pot roast pizza was amazing!)!

  25. Ivy says...

    I call meals like these “miracle dinners” because you look in the fridge and think, “There is nothing here”, but suddenly, you’ve pulled together the ends of things, a few left overs, some veggies, and et voila, dinner is done! I will try this with sweet potatoes or potatoes as the base since I don’t keep bread in the house, and I think maybe some stock for the liquid instead of the milk or nut milk would be tasty.

  26. We call it “Pantry Surprise” at our house and try to do it at least once or twice a month to save money and use up what’s laying around before it goes bad. The best have been vegetarian shepherd’s pie, stuffed bell peppers, and multitudes of soups, chowders and casseroles. Love it!

  27. Monica says...

    Question: Do you put the cover on the dutch oven when you bake? The instructions sounded like you don’t. I can’t wait to try this. :)

    • Olivia Villanti says...

      Yes definitely cover it! Think you’ll lose too much steam that you’ll need to cook the veggies if you don’t.

  28. HJM says...

    I love this… I can totally picture doing this with whatever you find at the farmers market on a given morning. How delicious will this be with summer tomatoes, greens and zucchini?

  29. Melissa says...

    Read this whIle I was eating breakfast! Quickly mixed up some old bread and spinach, a zucchini, the last 3 eggs and some milk and put it in the fridge to wait for lunch time. Thank you!

  30. Stacy says...

    This recipe makes me (finally!) want to invest in a dutch oven. Does anyone have any tips on what size I should buy? I see lots of choices out there. We are a family of four, if that helps….

    • 5.5 qt is the standard size I think. It’s what we use for our family of 4. Anything in that ball-park will work well for 4 people (5-7 qt). You can typically find good deals on craigslist if you want Le Creuset, but Lodge also makes a nice version for a fraction of the price.

    • Monica says...

      We are a family of four as well, and I have what I think is a 5-qt. dutch oven with a lid. It is perfect for us – anything bigger would be huge, I would think (5 qt is over a gallon of food!). I’d recommend a solid cast iron with an enamel or ceramic coating.

    • Jess. says...

      We are also a family of four, and I’d be sad if our go-to dutch oven were any smaller than 7 quarts (my boys are getting bigger) . . . It’s great for having soup for dinner and enough for leftovers. Stores like Marshall’s often have le Creuset for a good price.

  31. In order to get this one past my boyfriend I have to come up with a different name. For some reason he has an aversion to the word casserole!

    • Cassoulet?

    • Brooke says...

      Call it a “Ham and Cheese Bake,” “Zucchini, Feta, and Chicken Bake,” etc etc. Adding the word ‘bake’ to it works for my husband who also had the anti-casserole mentality. )

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha good tip!

  32. Alia says...

    How long do you cook in a crockpot/clow cooker?

    • That’s my question too!

    • Olivia Villanti says...

      I’d suggest adding more time for a slow cooker. An hour and a half seems right (instead of an hour) and make sure you have plenty of liquid if you’re working with root veggies. Let me know how it turns out!

  33. This is brilliant!!!

    I just shared on my blog my number one recipe for homemade baby food that doubled as parents meal convinced that this recipe was the best thing ever for moms and dads!

    But this? this is a whole new level of awesomeness. :D

  34. Heather says...

    This is such a fantastic idea. I currently have a variety of odds and ends leftovers that I was planning to toss soon because they wouldn’t be eaten. I’m going to whip up a casserole! Thank you for the idea!

  35. Gill says...

    I made this last night. The easiest and by far best thing I have ever made. So delish I laughed out loud when I tried it. SO GOOD :) Thanks

  36. Jessica says...

    This is great- I’ll try it this weekend! I don’t know if it was here or elsewhere on the interweb that someone had a Shop The Fridge weekday dinner night they suggested? I have been doing that too but it’s now called Picnic Dinner after my boys saw the baguette, boiled eggs, olives, salady bits and pieces, leftovers and fruit spread out on the table and declared it so. One made themselves a series of mini sandwiches. The other grabbed the wooden skewers I put down and assembled their own kebabs. The baby just grabbed whatever he could get his hands on- literally. Love ‘cheat’ dinners.

  37. Looks super yummy! Love the aunt Martine notes too, reminds me of my aunts and grandmas. The simplest things often turn to be the most elegant and deliciously satisfying.

  38. Steph says...

    I made this for dinner tonight & it was really great!
    I browned the onions first in some olive oil, then set them aside. I then layered sourdough bread, potato, butternut squash, onions, butter beans, broccoli, and baby spinach. I whisked 4 eggs & poured them over, plus a cup or so of milk. I topped it with grated cheddar & haloumi cheese. Oh, and I cut an assortment of herbs from the garden (chives, basil, oregano & thyme) and added them, too.
    My 3 year old only ate the beans, but I thought it was delicious! I will be making it again!

    • Olivia Villanti says...

      Bravo! That sounds perfect!

  39. Pany says...

    I am a long time reader, but have never posted before (actually I have never posted or commented on any blog or website!)

    I was at work today wondering what to cook for dinner and saw this post. I picked up my toddler came home and made this “recipe” with him. I chopped, he sprinkled the ingredients. We used super crusty bread I was about to throw away, roast chicken from the weekend, carrots, potatoes, a can of diced tomatoes and some chopped fresh herbs from the garden. It was seriously delicious AND I had time to play with him while dinner was cooking! I felt like such a together parent!

    • Olivia Villanti says...

      This makes me so happy! Well done, Pany!

  40. Rach says...

    Seriously this is going to be dinner tonight

  41. Aleah says...

    Made this tonight–it was simple and fantastic. I used slices of ciabatta that we had frozen, cabbage, carrot, slices of potato, plum tomatoes, halved, and a few eggs whisked together, plus a cup of milk. Topped with shredded mozzarella and seasoned with thyme, it was hearty and delicious, not too soggy but with perfect moist layers. My husband loved it too :)

  42. Maggie says...

    <3 this!

  43. This sounds brilliant! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  44. Just made this and it was delicious! Bread, red onion, carrots, sweet potato, garlic, frozen corn, salt/pepper, red pepper flakes and cheese. Will definitely make this again (probably weekly).

    Thanks!!!

  45. Sue says...

    Tried this tonight! SOOOOO yummy! Threw together bread, onion, potatoes, leftover sausage from breakfast, summer squash, tomatoes, thyme, and leftover corn from last night’s dinner, and poured a cup of milk over the top. Topped with some shredded cheese. Baked in the oven while I took my kids to swim lessons. It was ready when we got home and everyone devoured it. My 6 year old daughter asked if I could make it every night! Thank you for an easy dinner on busy nights.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so awesome, sue!!

  46. Cynthia says...

    My husband often creates casseroles and side dishes out of what we have on hand and they’re fantastic. He also makes soups out of most anything. We waste very little food, and it’s often things like an onion rotten in the middle.

  47. B says...

    No way!! Could it be this easy?? I am SO going to try this – could be a game changer (I’m always throwing out unused vegetables!)… Just a question – I have a slow cooker…. Is this the same as a crock pot?

    • B says...

      Oh – I did a bit of googling… Seems I have a ‘crockpot-style slow cooker’ haha – so hopefully will work okay!

  48. jeannie says...

    That baby is too cute!

  49. jeannie says...

    This is a GREAT idea!

  50. The notes from Martine in the south of France sound EXACTLY like my French grandparents’ routine as well: mandatory cheese course, rosé, and ice cream bars for dessert (or sorbet). Done and done. Cue the nostalgia!

  51. Holly says...

    This sounds like the Tightwad Gazette’s famous Flexible Casserole recipe:

    1 cup main ingredient
    1 cup second ingredient
    1-2 cups starchy ingredient
    1 1/2 cups binder
    1/4 cup “goodie”
    seasoning
    topping

    Main ingredient: tuna, cubed chicken, turkey, ham, seafood, etc.
    Second ingredient: thinly sliced celery, mushrooms, peas, chopped hard-boiled eggs, etc.
    Starchy ingredient: thinly sliced potatoes, cooked noodles, cooked rice, etc.
    Binder: cream sauce, sour cream, can of soup, etc.
    “Goodie”: pimiento, olives, almonds, water chestnuts, etc.
    Topping: cheese, bread crumbs, etc.

  52. yael steren says...

    This sounds too good to be true – super easy, exactly how like recipes!! I’m definitely giving this one a try! Thanks so much for sharing! xx yael

    http://www.yaelsteren.com/blog/

  53. Diana A says...

    Do you tear the bread up like your making a bread pudding?

  54. Jill Palumbo says...

    I love food all mixed together, but worried about soggy bread on this one. I just can’t do soggy bread. I hope someone posts their final results.

    • Dana says...

      Try toasting the torn up bread for about 10 minutes. This is what I do because I hate soggy bread too.

    • Olivia Villanti says...

      OK the bread can admittedly get soggy but I like that way. I have tried a thin sprouted grain bread before and that holds up much better (Ezekiel is the brand I used). If you add enough oil it actually becomes more of a crust and the grains in the bread don’t get too “wet.”

    • AK says...

      I didn’t have bread and used potatoes instead. It worked just fine! I’d bet anything starchy would basically serve the same purpose.

  55. Sarah says...

    This is great. I’ve spent years making really involved recipes but I’m going to grad school this fall and I’ve got to think of more simple recipes to make my family of four! Thanks!

  56. I immediately ran to my fridge and pantry to see what we had and threw this together in seconds. In the oven now – can’t wait to try! Great tip, thank you!

    • Sarah says...

      Return and tell us how it turned out! :)

    • We loved this! Will definitely add to the rotation!

  57. This sounds delicious. I love that you share recipes! May I request some dairy-free meal options? I’ve been recently diagnosed Lactose Intolerant and it’s really hard to adjust, especially when so so so many recipes call for cheese. I would appreciate any suggestions you have. Thanks!

    • Emma says...

      I’m vegan and have great luck with non-dairy cheese from Daiya and Follow Your Heart. You can also make your own cheese with aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas). Maybe that would work for you?

    • Jill says...

      Vanessa, just a suggestion, have you tried lactose free cheese? My sis and my boyfriend have both recently been diagnosed lactose intolerant and I’ve had my eyes opened to how much lactose-free dairy there is out there in supermarkets these days. When I cook for them, I often just sub in lactose free milk, lactose free cheddar, etc for whatever dairy ingredient is called for and honestly i can’t notice any difference.

    • Stacey says...

      My son has been allergic to dairy, egg, sesame and peanut. So we’ve come a long way to create a diverse recipe list. Take a look a kosher recipes to avoid dairy and generally, alternative milks (almond and oat) suit recipes well we found.

    • Olivia Villanti says...

      You can definitely make this vegan. Cheese isn’t necessary, but I would add some good vegan sausage or tempeh to give it heft. Almond milk (or any other nut milk) works great for the liquid part.

  58. Amy says...

    I’m trying to imagine this…because my first thoughts are ‘Really?? Any combination?? Just like that?!”
    But hey, I’d give it a shot. I can say more than often our fridge has so many random things by the end of the week left in it!

  59. Alice Quin says...

    Love recipes like this! Thanks olivia!

  60. Such a smart (and frugal) idea! Lately I’ve found myself cooking like I’m on the TV show ‘Chopped’…inventing dishes as I try to use up ingredients in the fridge (the latest was Greek-style tostadas). Can’t wait to try this in late summer when we are drowning in vegetables from the garden!

    • Talia says...

      Haha! I’ve been cooking like I am on “Chopped” as well!! I was tired of wasting food. I’m having a blast – hope you are too!

  61. Love this idea :)

  62. Aima says...

    How brilliantly simple! Love this.