I wonder: are we going to make like the Aussies this year and host Christmas Day barbecues? The weather has been downright unseasonal and there is no sign of cold air, let alone frost and snow.
But I, like the Geordie girls who never dress for the weather, don’t necessarily cook for the weather. It’s November, right? In my books that means that salads are out – in come soups, stews and casseroles.
Soups are self-explanatory, but have you ever wondered what the difference is between a stew and a casserole? Apart from the fact that the latter is also a dish in which to cook one (or/and the other), there are a few differences, quite obvious when you think about it.
No – a casserole is not just a posh name for a stew. Casserole usually (USUALLY: never make a hard and fast rule in cooking) is a) cooked in the oven and b) a complete meal. A stew is commonly cooked on the hob and requires side dishes when served for dinner.
There are more, subtler differences I’ve seen food writers to spot, like the main ingredient in the case of stew being commonly meat or fish while a casserole can happily be vegetarian. And gravy – so important! Stew without gravy is like toast without butter whereas a casserole varies: sometimes it’s saucy, other times you can cut it into portions with a knife. But as said, not set in stone and sometimes we call dishes ‘casseroles’ even if they’d been cooked on the stove. I do that for a reason, as follows.
In my house there is an additional nuance to it: for some reason The Weather Man has a severe bias towards stew, mainly the word itself. Before we met, I never knew you could be put off certain foods based on their names alone but it turns out you can! and how! Stews are never on the menu in our house (only casseroles) nor is semolina, though he’s conquered his dislike of polenta and he’s working on gravy.
So now that we have established definitions and prejudices, time for recipes.
Whether stews or casseroles, they really need not be heavy. Check out my fragrant fish stew: it’s gorgeously light. Chicken tagine is a Middle Eastern stew and it's an exception confirming the rule as you serve it with couscous.
Prawns with tomato stew are another instance of stewed and light. Likewise a good ratatouille, even if it features chunks of chicken.
But sometimes you’re sorely in need of full comfort experience on your plate. Times like that, you can’t beat baked beans with bacon and they are pretty amazing made from scratch. Or the ultimate casserole: cassoulet, even if you cut corners with tinned beans.
Classic meaty specimen is venison casserole, or the veal one a.k.a. blanquette de veau. A classic veggie casserole in my view is aubergine parmigiana, and any parmigiana qualifies.
Shakshuka is a casserole of a kind and mine is good for dinner, with poached salmon. Does a gratin qualify? Even if it doesn’t, the potato and cabbage gratin gets an honorary mention as it warms the cockles so well.
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