One thing about Nashville is that I really don't know too many people who were born and raised here. Most are transplants from somewhere else. One group of friends of mine are all from the midwest, and were raised with really awesome casseroles that were easy and quick to assemble, and can feed a family and any kid's friends for dinner. Chicken a al king, Johnny Marzetti, frito chili pie, potato au gratin, turkey tetrazzini, hamburger pie, and mac and cheese are all good solid midwest meals. The Man is from Ohio, and has fond memories of his aunt making Johnny Marzetti for reunions and potlucks. So, after a few weeks of talking midwest food with my midwest pals, we decided to do a midwest themed potluck.
Since I am not originally from the midwest, and my mom was all about whole foods, and nothing from a can, and nothing from a box, I was not raised with traditional casseroles. Casseroles are a bit of new thing for me. BUT, the Man taught me about an Ohio favorite - Johnny Marzetti, and baked pasta dish that he grew up with. The premise behind a Johnny Marzetti is ziti mixed with tomato sauce, ground beef, and mozzarella, then topped with cheddar and then baked until hot. In essence it is a baked ziti casserole that can feed a lot of people.
I decided to make this dish, but I would use lots of local organic ingredients my own tomato pasta sauce I made with a lot local organic ingredients and some conventional.
meat, peppers, onion, celery, garlic, salt and cayenne
The sauce I made with Foggy Hollow and Barefoot Farmer tomatoes, Barefoot Farmer peppers, onions, and garlic, my organic garden oregano, thyme, basil and cayenne, salt and a little squirt of honey from my friend's house in Mt Juliet. So I made about 2 quarts of sauce.
The ground meat mix I used local ground beef (West Wind) and hot Italian style sausage (Emerald Glen), and I sauteed that up with Barefoot Farmer onions, celery, garlic and parsley, Foggy Hollow sweet peppers, my organic garden cayenne and salt.
The cheese, I cheated and did not use local organic product. I bought conventional pre-shredded Italian style and pre-shredded cheddar, not Sweetwater Valley or Kenny's. The pasta, I cheated on too, and it is dried boxed ziti, not Lazzaroli's fresh pasta.
assembled Johnny Marzetti before baking
To assemble, I greased the bottom of a 9x13" pan. I put a layer of sauce down first. Then I put a pasta layer, meat mix layer, sauce layer and mozzarella layer. I layered until I was out of each layer material. Then I topped the top with cheddar cheese. I put the casserole in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes until the top cheese layer was all melty.
Everyone at the dinner said they liked this dish. The other Ohio people recognized this dish from the school lunch they used to get in Ohio, except that this dish has a lot more flavor and yumminess to it than the school lunch.
chicken a la king
My friend Debbie, a recent transplant from the Midwest is the queen of the casseroles and crock pot. She makes chicken a la king like no one's business. After she made it months ago, I bugged her for the recipe, and I made it a few times since because I love it! So it is a couple cans of cream of chicken, a couple cans of cream of mushroom, diced chicken, and a bag of frozen mixed veggies. So add the condensed soup and chicken to the crockpot and cook on low 6-8 hrs, or hi 3-4 hrs. In the last 30 - 45 min add the veggies. That is it. So dang good. It tastes like pot pie filling which I love! Debbie made chicken a la king for the party, and I took all the left overs home with me. So good!
So, when I make this at home, I use the condensed soup, and I add diced organic chicken thighs because I like thigh meat better than white meat. I also add Barefoot Farmer carrots, celery and onions to the mix. I add sliced creminis. I add my organic garden cayenne, and a splash of white wine to it. Then at the last 3- to 45 min, I add a small bag of green peas. It tastes different from Debbie's traditional mix, but still tasty I think.
making frito chili pie
Another midwest friend made frito chili pie! I have never had this tasty treat before, and I am impressed with it. She assembled it in about 2 minutes and baked for about 10-15 min. She emptied a bag of regular (and btw, the best) fritos in a baking dish. She sliced some onion and scattered them on the chips. She opened a can of chili with beans, and poured it over the chips. She opened a bag of shredded cheddar, and poured that on top of the chili. She popped the dish into the oven until the cheese melted, and she served it. Really good. I just love this dish too!
frito chili pie
There were other dishes including tuna casserole, salad, cheesy kale, straight up sauteed kale, watermelon and s'mores. S'mores are universal, so I had those as a kid. At this potluck, one midwesterner brought giant marshmallows and Hershey's chocolate to make the s'mores. We got the bonfire going, collected sticks from the yard, and unraveled a couple wire hangers to toast our marshmallows. I, of course, set my marshmallow on fire because I like tasting the charry goodness. Oh we had so much fun making s'mores. It was like we were kids again, giggling at the messy drippy sugary treat. Us adults were possible on sugar highs, and the kids had to remind up to settle down.
Anyway, here in Nashville, kids went back to school on August 1st. Yes, you read that right, August 1st. With sports, studying, and school, and the kids aren't old enough to drive and take themselves around, the adults don't have much time for potlucks now. So, I have some fun memories, and some great casserole and crockpot recipes now. And, I am totally scanning the calendar looking for another good day for another midwest themed potluck.