If the picture of the casserole, all warm and golden, on the cover of James Villas’s Crazy for Casseroles (Harvard Common Press, 2003) doesn’t send you scurrying to the kitchen, nothing will. It’s hard to tell what’s under the inviting topping, but like a beautifully wrapped birthday present waiting to be opened, you know it will be wonderful.
Villas, who was food and wine editor of the upscale Town and Country magazine for 27 years, has a special place in his heart for casseroles. “They are just glorious,” he says from his home in East Hampton, N.Y.
Although Villas grew up in the South, where casseroles are part of the lifestyle, his book is a comfy collection of recipes from throughout the country. Each one includes interesting notes about the dish and tips for simple variations. Home cooks will appreciate his friendly and reassuring words, but it would be a mistake to think that casseroles are dumping grounds for ingredients.
Instead, in each of his dishes, Villas plans the combination of flavors and textures, layered or mixed together, moistened with liquids such as canned soup, broth or wine, and baked as is or with simple cheese or breadcrumb toppings. Still, casseroles have room for experimentation.
“They’re the champions of American cookery,” says Villas.
—By Jean Kressy