Thursday, September 25, 2014

Audre's Pizza Casserole, My Way

When Bob and I were first engaged, Bob's mother, Audre, made a pizza casserole for a luncheon with my mother and me. That was my introduction to Audre's Pizza Casserole. Years later, when Bob and I moved to Phoenix, Audre sent me a copy of the recipe.

Audre sort of led me to believe this tasty dish was her creation, but alas, this is not true. It was a lunch-lady at Bob's middle school that shared this recipe. The lunch-lady made it on a massive scale, and it was a dish Bob actually liked from the school cafeteria. Audre asked the lunch-lady to share the recipe, and since Audre was well liked in the school community, the lunch-lady happily complied.

And so was born Audre's Pizza Casserole.

Audre's Pizza Casserole
My Way
¼ cup tomato paste, 1/8 cup tomato puree, and 1 2/3 cup tomato juice
3 cans tomato sauce, 2 tbs sugar and 1 tbs salt, a palm full of dried herbal mix
1 ½ lbs of ground beef, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic salt
20 ounces of ground turkey, seasoned with herbal mix and garlic salt
½ lb of broad noodles, prepared according to package directions
About 12 ounces of cholesterol-free broad noodles, prepared al dente
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
10-12 ounces of reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese

When it comes to the assembly, Audre and I follow the same pattern:

1.      Sauce
2.      Noodles
3.      Meat and seasoning
4.      Cheese
5.      Sauce
6.      Noodles
7.      Meat and seasoning
8.      Sauce
9.      Cheese

Layer the ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

Why Making Pizza Casserole This Way is Worth It
I've seen recipes for pizza casserole that consist of canned dough, a jar of sauce, cheese and packaged pepperoni on top. I don't call that a casserole. I call that sauce and cheese on a biscuit. (I sounded just like my mother there)

Anyway, the reason I take all this time and effort to make this pizza casserole from scratch is that it tastes that good. No doubt the quickie versions have their appeal, but once you make this dish, and have the leftovers the next day, so easily heated in the microwave, you'll never use canned dough again.

What's more, the licorice flavor brought in with the fennel seed – or Mexican Tarragon- is so subtle that at first you think you imagined it, that funny little tang in the midst of all this sauce and cheese. But no, there it is, a twist of sweet and heat nestled in a bed of comfort food.

What's more, it's easy to have some bit of this or that left over and that usually leads to some creative cooking ala Chopped – as in What's In The Fridge I That I Can Turn Into Dinner. If I have noodles and turkey, I can make noodles with turkey, veggies and white sauce. If I have just cheese and sauce, I make pizza bread on hamburger buns. And so on.

And So On
Recipes, especially family recipes, evolve and take on new ingredients, and substitute others. I'm pretty sure Audre's addition to this recipe was the fennel seed, because I have a hard time believing a lunch room kitchen in the 1970s was stocked with fennel seed. I think Audre knew this dish needed a bit of zing.

I miss my mother-in-law. She was sweet and fun and loved watching sci-fi – particularly Star Trek. And she like good food and board games and going to Star Trek conventions. And she liked animals and good books and  munchie food for breakfast. And she loved it when people raved about her pizza casserole.

So if you make this, and tell your friends you 'just came up with it', Audre will know. And she'll smile, and say something funny like, "Live Long and Casserole."