Everyone loves a festa. Every cook loves making an easy dish that is a guaranteed hit, like a Superbowl touchdown or knocking it out of the park. Beloved by many people are casseroles, especially for entertaining. Think Picadillo. This is not any ordinary casserole. It is a treasured dish transversing Spain to Cuba to Latin America to Mexico. What makes this version special? The secret is in layering. Melted cheese is on the bottom with a savory meat or poultry filling on top. Think spice, sweet, salt, and smoke, with chili pepper heat, scooped onto crisp tortilla chips, wrapped in soft flour tortillas, or stuffed into crunchy taco shells.
It is so versatile, gather together your casseroles like I do, and make several since guests inhale one within a few minutes. One with ground pork, another with ground beef sirloin or chuck, and yet another one with chicken. Turkey and lamb are equally great cooked this way, too. Substitute any smoked or spicy sausage for the chorizo. In place of golden raisins, substitute dried papaya, mango, pineapple, or figs. If you love green olives, capers, and dried fruit in savory dishes, this recipe is for you. If not, omit any of these and increase other ingredients for delicious balance. For larger quantity, multiply by 2 or 3. The idea is, every bite tastes different because of these flavorings.
Choosing the right cheese is an important part of the Picadillo experience. Good meltability with tang or slightly salty character is ideal. Feature one cheese or blend two or three types. Many cooks have mozzarella and sharp cheddar cheese on-hand, and they taste great with this mix. Here are more excellent choices for this dish:
Cow's Milk: Sharp aged Cheddar, Edam, 1000-day aged Gouda, Asadero, Cotija, Oaxaca
Sheep’s Milk: Spanish Manchego
Tri-Milk (cow, sheep, goat): Campo de Montalban, Iberico
For non-alcoholic drinks, fruit juice-based tall drinks, cold fruit punch, iced fruit tea, smoothies, and lassies hit the sweet spot. Cocktails and highballs based on tequila, scotch, bourbon, red vermouth, vodka or gin, and of course, iced beer pair superbly well. This casserole may be assembled 1 to 2 hours in advance of cooking and serving.
You aced this one, Champ. Your Picadillo will be remembered as one of the greats.
4 servings. Cooking time is 15 minutes for the meat or poultry mixture. Bake in a 400 F/200 C/Gas Mark 6 oven for 45 minutes to heat thoroughly and melt cheese.
Extra-virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, or grapeseed oil
1 link (4 ounces or 115 g) fresh or cured Chorizo sausage, skinned, crumbled
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
1/2 small green bell pepper or Poblano pepper, chopped
1/2 medium sweet red bell pepper, chopped
1 pound (454 g or 2 cups) ground fresh pork butt or shoulder, beef sirloin or chuck, chicken, turkey, or lamb leg or shoulder
1/8 teaspoon (.6 ml volume) ground cloves or to taste
3/4 teaspoon (3.7 ml volume) ground coriander or to taste
3/4 teaspoon (3.7 ml volume) dried oregano or 2 teaspoon fresh oregano or to taste
Ground chili pepper (cayenne, chipotle, or poblano) or paprika to taste (hot, smoked, or sweet)
3 tablespoons golden raisins (1 ounce or 28 g)
3 tablespoons chopped green olives, rinse, drain, pat dry (1 ounce or 28 g; 6 large or 8 small olives)
2 tablespoons capers preserved in brine, drain, rinse, pat dry (1 ounce or 28 g)
1 cup seeded, chopped plum tomatoes (8 ounces or 225 g)
Lightly salt to taste – olives, capers, cheese, and tortilla chips/taco shells add salt
Yield: 3 1/2 cups (828 ml volume) cooked mixture
1 tablespoon (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, or grapeseed oil for rubbing casserole interior
Cheese: 10 ounces (285 g) cheese, remove rind, cut into 1/4-inch (6.35-mm) thick slices
Casserole: Earthenware, Corningware, Ceramic, Porcelain, Glass.
This recipe is for a casserole 8-inches (20-cm) x 2-inches (5-cm) deep, with a lid or pierced foil sheet to cover.
1. Making the Picadillo Filling: In a non-stick pan, warm the oil over medium heat. Sauté the Chorizo sausage and onion until just soft but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and peppers and saute for 2 minutes. Add the ground meat or poultry, break apart into small pieces. Liberally season with ground cloves, coriander, oregano, and chili pepper or paprika. Taste, season with salt as needed. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the raisins, olives, capers, and tomatoes and saute until hot to the touch, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve. Cool, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours until ready to layer casserole, or proceed.
2. Assembling the Casserole: Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C/Gas Mark 6. Rub the oil over the casserole's interior to prevent the cheese from sticking to the casserole. Photo Below: Layer the bottom with cheese (pale yellow color). Ladle some picadillo using a slotted spoon so most of the juice drains away. Evenly arrange a layer of it on top of the cheese.
Continue ladling the picadillo over the cheese. When finished, there is a 1-inch (2.5-cm) thick sauteed mixture layer over a 1/2-inch (1.2-cm) thick cheese layer. Cover loosely with the casserole's lid or a pierced foil sheet.
Baking time depends on the casserole, usually 40 to 45 minutes. (Earthenware requires a few more minutes to heat up than other materials such as Corningware and glass.) When the cheese melts, and the aroma tempts you, remove from the oven. Remove the foil and serve in the casserole. (During the final minutes of baking the casserole, warm the tortilla chips or taco shells for 1 to 2 minutes in an oven with medium heat. They are crisper and lighter than straight from the bag.)