Haute Dish – July 2000

Cook at Stove

Experimental Cooking

After writing A Stitch in Time, I was challenged to come up with a recipe for a hotdish prepared by an upper-middle-class character. Hotdish is, for non-Minnesotans, casserole. And casseroles are a tasty way of getting rid of small amounts of leftover meat by stirring it in with noodles, cheese, vegetables, and a can of cream of mushroom soup, and heating it in an oven until the top browns.

When Betsy Devonshire is taken to the hospital, her friends rally around by bringing food to her apartment so she won’t have to cook. Some bring fruit baskets, some bring pies, but most bring hotdish.

Patricia Fairland wants to do the right thing. At the same time, her tastes are above canned cream of mushroom soup. So, according to the novel, her hotdish consists of “shrimp, peapods, and three kinds of cheese.” I have never had a hotdish containing those three ingredients; that’s why it’s called creative writing.


Pat Dennis and Monica serving hotdish at a dual signing

Now I am faced with a book signing at which, for publicity’s sake, hotdish is going to be served. And someone challenged me to produce an example of Ms. Fairland’s hotdish.

I bought some Romano, Parmesan, and Feta cheese and tried mixing them. The dish came up wanting. I don’t know what, it just wasn’t very good without whatever it was missing. So then I went to Byerly’s, a high-end grocery store, and went nuts at their imported cheese section. I bought aged American Cheddar, Havarti, Irish Cheddar (which is paler and sweeter than our cheddar), Parmesan, Cheshire (a delicious, sharp, crumbly, expensive cheese), and Swiss. I made a big pot of white sauce, stirred in the herbs, shrimp, onions, peapods, and wine; and a bigger pot of pasta. Then I put various combinations of cheese in oven-safe bowls, added the white sauce mixture, and baked the carefully-marked bowls in a 350-degree oven until the cheese melted. I stirred the resulting mixtures and served them over pasta. A friend came over and we sat down to taste the various blends, and both of us exclaimed Hurrah! when we came to the Havarti, Irish Cheddar and Parmesan blend. It was far and away the most delicious mix of cheeses. Because of this odd way of arriving at the best combination, the recipe is my estimation of ingredient amounts. I will make the dish again soon, in rehearsal for public presentation of it, and should have a better estimate of amounts.

Haute Dish
NOTE: amounts are estimates)

1.5 TB Butter
.5 cup Flour
1.5 cups 2% milk
.5 tsp Chopped Garlic
1.5 cups Chopped onion (Vidalia or a sweet white)
2 TB Oregano, fresh
2 TB Basil, fresh
2 cups of cooked shell macaroni
1.5 cup Shrimp (cooked, but not canned), chopped, plus 4 whole ones
.5 cup Chardonnay wine
.5 cup Peapods cut in pieces
.5 cup Havarti cheese, chopped or grated
.5 cup Irish cheddar cheese, chopped or grated
.5 cup Parmesan cheese, chopped or grated
Salt & pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a pot and work in the flour. There should be enough butter melted to absorb the flour. Add the milk and stir until the mixture begins to thicken. Add the garlic and cheese and stir until it is melted. Add the herbs, salt, and pepper, stir. Pour into casserole dish, add the other ingredients except the whole shrimp and stir well, then arrange the whole shrimp on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.