A casserole dish is a piece of bakeware designed for use in making casseroles, baked dishes which combine a number of ingredients and a thick sauce. Many nations have variations of the classic casserole, ranging from Italian lasagna to American macaroni and cheese. The casserole dish has several unique properties which make it well suited to these baking projects. Most kitchen supply stores sell these dishes in a number of shapes, sizes, and materials.
Any piece of bakeware is designed to withstand long cooking. A casserole dish is also capable of keeping food from burning or drying out, and it promotes the formation of a crispy crust which seals in the flavor of the food. This is accomplished by making a casserole dish thick, and often by coating it with a layer of enamel or glaze. Plain glass is a common material for these dishes, but they are also made from thick enameled metal, such as Le Creuset, and glazed earthen or stoneware.
In many cases, a casserole is served directly from the dish it is cooked in. Because of this, a casserole dish may be made slightly ornamental, so that it looks attractive on the table. The dish also typically has large handles which make it easy to grip with the assistance of a potholder. In many cases, a mating lid may be designed as well, for transporting casseroles safely and for keeping them from drying out while under refrigeration.
The world casserole is actually French for “stew pan,” a reference to the origins of the original casserole pot, which probably started out as a large earthenware dish designed for slow cooking in a fire. Casserole is a highly versatile food, since all it really requires is meat or vegetables, something to pull them together, such as bread crumbs or pasta, and a dense sauce to cook the mixture in. Because casserole is easy to make and filling, it is a great choice for the winter months, since the slow cooking will warm the house and the casserole will usually generate leftovers which can be eaten over several days.
When selecting a casserole dish, size is an important consideration. In a two or three person household, a smaller dish may be better, since it will not generate so many leftovers that people get bored with it. In bigger households, or for parties, a big casserole dish is a great choice. Different cooks prefer different materials, but you are always safe with a high quality enameled or ovenproof glass casserole dish.