A Few Questions For Casserole Queen Emily Farris

When we think of casseroles, the first thing that comes to mind is a green been monstrosity that an aunt used to force upon us at Thanksgiving. Just imagining it makes us ill. But Emily Farris is set on changing our minds about casseroles, or “hotdishes” as Minnesotans like her call them. Her book, Casserole Crazy: Hot Stuff for Your Oven, came out last month and includes yummy recipes from her own repertoire, as well as from big-name chefs like Bobby Flay, Paula Deen, and Donatella Arpaia. Emily was nice enough to take a break from cooking to chat with us about her passion for vintage Pyrex and how she seduces men…Have you always been so into casseroles, or did you despise them as a child?
I’ve always loved them. Growing up, not a week went by when we didn’t have at least one of three casseroles on our table: broccoli cheese (made with Velveeta, of course), green bean, or my favorite, classic tuna noodle made with canned tuna, canned peas, and canned cream of mushroom soup. Of course, my opinion of what constitutes a good casserole has changed, but I can’t lie — I still crave tuna noodle sometimes. In fact, I have one in the fridge right now.

Why’d you start making them?
Because they were cheap and easy. A few years ago, I wasn’t much of a cook, but casseroles are fool-proof. Put a few of your favorite ingredients in a dish and bake them together. If you’re me, one of those ingredients is cheese.

Are they always cheaper to make than other dishes?
It really depends. If you want to bake lobster and pasta and fancy cheese in one dish, you’re going to have yourself one hell of an expensive (albeit, delicious) casserole. If you can allow yourself to pass over the fanciest cheese and you use dry pasta and chicken or salmon with a vegetable or two, you can feed five people for $20 or less. Casseroles are a really great way to make a little bit of meat or fresh vegetables go a really long way.

What’s your all-time favorite?
My signature casserole is called “Seduction.” It’s made with Cavatelli, sweet corn, garlic, caramelized onions and five different cheeses. I bake it with sliced plum tomatoes and fresh grated Parmesan cheese on top. While none of the ingredients are particularly sexy on their own, pretty much anyone who I make it for is ready to sleep with me, marry me, or both.

Do you have a thing for casserole dishes, too?
Last time I counted, I have 33 casserole dishes. Most of them are vintage Pyrex, and one of my favorites is a large black one with white snowflakes that I found on eBay. But I love them all; I love having a combination of so many patterns and colors. I’m still holding out for the Moon Deco pattern, though. It’s like the holy grail of vintage Pyrex.

What do you say when people turn their noses up at your favorite dishes?
I ask them if they like lasagna, baked Ziti or noodle kugel. Those are all casseroles.