This is part two of a series of columns on frozen dinner prep, which I’m doing as I prepare to have a baby. Today we’re covering casseroles – here’s a shopping list that will provide you with enough food to assemble eight 13-inch by 9-inch casseroles to freeze, or 4-6 complete meals per dish. Enjoy!
Also, there is now absolutely no room in my freezer.
Tips for Freezing
Leave some moisture in sauces: When I make a red sauce I usually simmer it until it’s quite thick, but for a casserole in the freezer I’ll cook it for less time, maybe 20-45 minutes instead of a hour and 45. When reheating a 13 – 9 inch casserole that is solidly frozen, it will probably take at least an hour to cook. The oven will dry it out a bit as it heats up, so you want to compensate for that.
Your pasta is undercooked: I’ve been making frozen pasta casseroles for a long time because they’re so simple; they were a lifesaver for me as a young newsroom worker who was on the go for frequent 12 hour shifts. Keeping your pasta undercooked is a cardinal rule – cook it halfway through, pre-al dente, a little stiff and succulent. It will finish cooking by reheating after being frozen in the oven, and the moisture from your pan will seep into it. If you cook or overcook pasta to begin with, you’ll end up with a soggy pan.
Cook your meat: I am wary of freezing raw, ready-to-cook foods. There’s nothing inherently dangerous about this since your food will reach a high temperature and cook before you take it out of the oven, but freezing raw meat in a pan means the meat will cook slowly, from freezing. , inside a tray. This won’t impart much meat flavor – if you brown your meat first or make pulled pork or chicken (which, due to its moisture content, freezes and reheats very well), you give more of flavor and you also make sure everything is fully cooked once it’s heated.
Reheat and enjoy: Loosely cover your casserole dish with foil and reheat in a 350 degree oven. Cooking time will vary – if reheating from frozen it can take a full hour. If the casserole has been thawed, this may take 20 to 30 minutes. Just watch your pans as they heat up to make sure you don’t overcook them and dry them out in the process.
This will make you four 13 x 9 inch enchilada pans, three with red sauce and one with salsa verde.
1 pork shoulder, 3 to 4 pounds
4 large chicken breasts
2 to 3 cups of broth
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of cumin
4 to 5 whole garlic cloves
1 yellow onion, cut into four pieces
Juice of an orange
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
24 burrito-sized flour tortillas (or whatever tortillas you want to use; I find the flour tortillas reheat better)
3 cans of red enchilada sauce
2 jars of salsa verde
2 pounds cheddar cheese, grated
First, cook the pork: cut the pork shoulder into several large pieces and add them to the Instant Pot or slow cooker. First brown the pork with olive oil to develop some flavor, then add the garlic, onion, broth, garlic powder, paprika, salt, cumin and red pepper flakes. Cook on high pressure for 70 minutes (in your Instant Pot) or 5-8 hours in a slow cooker. (You can also braise for 3-4 hours in the oven at 300-325 degrees, which will provide similar results.)
When the pork is done, shred and remove any really soggy fat chunks. Toss with 1/2 to 1/3 cup enchilada sauce. While you’re assembling the pork casseroles, you can cook your chicken in the same braising liquid; 20 minutes in the Instant Pot will make your chicken breasts soft and easy to shred. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt before lighting the Instant Pot.
Pour about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of enchilada sauce into your pan, then fill the tortillas with the pulled pork, roll them up, and place them firmly in your pan. Top with plenty more enchilada sauce and 1/4 of your shredded cheese. Repeat with the second dish.
I averaged about 6-7 enchiladas per pan, and my pork shoulder made two 13×9 inch pans.
I then repeated this process with the chicken, shredding it, then splitting it in half, tossing half with red enchilada sauce and the other half with salsa verde. I then made a pot of red enchiladas and a pot of green enchiladas, covered them with more sauce and cheese, and let them cool for 30-45 minutes before covering tightly with two layers of foil. foil, label and freeze.
FREEZER PASTA PANS
Makes 4 pans
4 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 heads of broccoli, chopped
4 boxes of dry pasta (shape of your choice)
1 container 32 ounces of ricotta
2 pounds grated mozzarella cheese
4 cans (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
2 cans of tomato puree
10 garlic cloves, diced
2 small yellow onions, chopped
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried oregano
Salt and pepper
First, make the sauce: (or cheat and buy sauce; I’m not going to judge you.) Cook the onion and garlic in olive oil until tender. translucent with salt and pepper, then add two cans full of tomato paste and cook for about 5 minutes, until the paste darkens.
Add canned tomatoes, crushing whole peeled tomatoes as you add them to your pot (you can buy diced or mashed, but I like whole). Add the basil and oregano and cook, 20 to 40 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Put aside.
Cook the chicken: In a non-stick skillet, brown the chicken pieces with olive oil, salt, pepper and more dried basil until cooked through, about 10 minutes (j had to do it in batches).
Boil pasta until just under al dente.
Assemble the pans: start with 1/2 to 2/3 cup sauce in the bottom of the pan, then add a layer of pasta, then chicken and broccoli, then more sauce and mozzarella and dollops of ricotta cheese . Top with more pasta, sauce and mozzarella. (You’re aiming to use a quarter of all your ingredients per pan, so keep that in mind when placing handfuls of cheese in pans.)
Let cool about 45 minutes before covering with two layers of aluminum foil, labeling and freezing.