Hooked on Hotdish Casseroles

By Jessie Price, "Hooked on Hotdish," September/October 2010

Find out how we took on the classic make-ahead casseroles of the Midwest hotdish and gave them a fresh, lighter, EatingWell spin from wild rice to Tater Tots.

Last fall at my husband’s grandmother’s 100th birthday party in Minneapolis was when I first heard of “hotdish.” The word, spoken with a slight Minnesotan lilt, seemed so much more nostalgic than “casserole,” which is in essence what a hotdish is. It evoked images of my own grandma, who grew up in Iowa, with her coiffed do and a ruffled apron, opening cans of Campbell’s soup to stir into dinner.

At the birthday party, I was seated next to Eric, one of my husband’s relatives. Like everyone I met at the party he wanted to talk food. (They all know I’m a food editor.) So I asked him what he ate growing up. He said that every night his mother started dinner by browning ground beef in a skillet before doing anything else. He’d ask, “What’s for dinner?” but she wouldn’t know. Once the meat was on its way, she’d grab a few ingredients from the cupboard or freezer, assemble them in a casserole dish and the next thing he’d know, she’d be opening the oven door to pop in a hotdish to bake until it was bubbly.

Apparently hotdish has been the answer to what’s for dinner in Minnesota as well as the Dakotas, Wisconsin and parts of Iowa since at least the 1800s. The origins of the word are murky, but one popular theory is that the name came from Norwegians who settled in Minnesota in the late 1800s and brought along their tradition of casseroles, which they called varmrett, or “warm dish.”

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