On a cold night, after a grindingly long day, what better than to sit down to a hot dish replete with aroma, taste, and memories? Few dishes are as restorative as a casserole...warm, filling, and savory.

The casserole has roots in different cuisines. What we dub lasagna has been cooked in various layered-and-baked pasta guises throughout the Mediterranean. 

Baked beans have an honored tradition in the French cassoulet.

In the Southwest, Tex-Mex influences have brought us enchiladas baked in a dish, whether that be hamburger with a spicy red sauce, or chicken with a green chile and sour cream sauce.

If one layers potatoes with ham, and then lashes liberally with some sort of cream sauce, one eventually arrives at scalloped potatoes, although speedier variations have evolved on this theme.

On a rushed afternoon in multiple households across America, readily-assembled casserole ingredients and a simple baking process have saved many a family from eminent starvation two hours hence.

Perambulations are many, actually, and come from a basic concept. 

Think up a cooked starch--a form of potatoes, or cooked noodles, or rice--to which you add a protein. This might include raw or cooked chicken, perhaps ham, or ground beef, or tuna.

Next, add some sort of sauce, which serves three functions. First, it serves to hold the disparate ingredients together. Secondly, it provides creamy moisture throughout each bite. Thirdly, it serves to enhance the flavor of the dish as a whole.

Casserole ingredients can be layered into the pan, or just combined together. To get fancy, or to add color and to contribute additional nutrition, vegetables can be added into the mix. Peas, green beans, chopped celery or onions are common mainstays.

And finally, many a self-respecting casserole would not be complete without a topping. Not only does the dish look more appetizing with this treatment, but the casserole is also more interesting and luscious come eating time. A common route is to use something crunchy on top, say, buttered bread crumbs or crushed corn flakesArticle Search, but one can never go wrong with the punctuation of melted cheese atop.