You couldn’t say my ex-mother-in-law and I got along, exactly, but I’d be the last to criticize her cooking. She could make cardboard stew delicious…mostly because her three favorite ingredients were sour cream, butter, and cheese.
She was a Midwest cook, which meant casseroles and stuff done with jello figured heavily into her repertoire. One of her best was Hominy Casserole, AKA Heaven on a Plate.
One of her worst was beet jello, but let’s not go there…
You could also call it Heart Attack on a Plate; if there’s a way to squeeze more calories and cholesterol into a spoonful of deliciosity I sure don’t know how. Still, I start thinking about hominy casserole in the fall, when the air is crisp, leaf color is blazing, and the Northwest rains pick up speed, and this week I put one together. Takes about 15 minutes to get it into the oven, so it’s not exactly a difficult recipe.
The Resident Carpenter says it reminds him of Utah Wedding Potatoes, a sort of cheesy au gratin dish served at innumerable Mormon wedding receptions. We’re apparently gloomier in the grey and rainy Northwest, so we call them “funeral potatoes.” Go figure.
In any case, I’d made enough for 20 in a giant casserole dish five days ago, intending to freeze half, and tonight there’s only one serving left…obviously, The RC approves. Heaven knows I do, so here’s the recipe:
None of these are exact quantities, so adjust as you see fit. We like it with a bit more diced chilis than it strictly calls for, and we tend to add a little hot sauce into the mix as well.
- 3/4 lb to 1 lb grated sharp cheddar cheese. You can actually use any mix of cheeses you like–smoked gouda, extra-sharp white farmhouse cheddar, and feta are good.
- 1 pint sour cream. The REAL sour cream, not that light stuff, not plain yogurt, not flavored. Just plain old sour cream.
- 4 cups drained white hominy. This is about what’s in one large (25oz) and one small (15oz) can, but again, it’s adjustable. It can be difficult to find white hominy–the golden stuff is usually what’s sitting in grocery store cans–but you can usually find it in the international aisle at the grocery store, in the Mexican foods section
- 1 small can chopped or diced green chilis. Depending on the manufacturer, they may be chopped to near-goo or in firm, larger pieces. Smaller pieces (maybe 1/4 inch) are better.
- 2T finely chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Your favorite herbs. I like about a quarter-cup of fresh parsley, a half-teaspoon of dried basil, and a couple of shakes of dried dill, but that’s just me. Any Penzey herb mix intended for salads or cheese and poultry dishes will work, too–use about a tablespoon.
- 1 cup breadcrumbs. I like crushed-up stuffing croutons, panko, pretty much whatever I have lying around.
- 1/4 cup fresh butter. Salted or unsalted, whatever I have, but it needs to be fresh with no hint of rancid.
- Salt & pepper to taste. The type of cheese you use will definitely change the amount of salt needed, so test the raw mix before seasoning.
- Casserole dish. I prefer relatively shallow, flat glass casseroles for this recipe; it maximizes the breadcrumb surface area for the best possible ratio of creamy to crunch.
Making the casserole
This is literally, as I said, a 15 minute job, from gathering ingredients to slipping the dish into the oven. But first:
What the heck IS hominy?
My mamma’s from the South, so I grew up eating hominy as a regular thing. I never realized how many people see it as a mystery vegetable and refuse to touch it. Silly people; they probably don’t like butter beans, either.
Hominy is corn with an attitude. It’s made by cooking dried hard corn in (now, don’t freak out) a lye or slaked lime solution. The process, called nixtamilization, was developed by the Mayans or somesuch a couple thousand years ago or so.
The cooked corn is washed thoroughly (because nobody wants to eat lye, right?) and left to dry into supersized, puffy-soft kernels. They kinda look like popcorn that stayed in the shape of the original kernel, and are considered much more digestible and nutritious than regular corn.
Hominy makes masa harina, the pasty stuff used in tamales. It’s also the key ingredient in hominy grits, the famed Southern breakfast food, and polenta (although I think the Italian process is a bit different).
Dump the sour cream, chilies, chopped onion, herbs, and garlic into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add all but a couple handfuls of the grated cheese and mix again. Stir in the hominy and toss until well-coated.
Dump it into the casserole dish and press it lightly into place. Press about a quarter-inch layer of breadcrumbs into the top, and dot with small pieces of the butter. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese evenly over the top.
Bake in a 350-degree(F) oven for about 40 minutes, until the topping is golden-brown and the casserole is bubbling. Remove from heat, cool about 30 minutes, and serve.
It freezes well–if it lasts that long–and is one of those dishes that tastes even better reheated on the second day, after the flavors have had a chance to settle in.
One word of caution, however: If you reheat this in the microwave, ALWAYS put a paper towel or some other covering on top. Microwaves tend to pop the hominy like popcorn, and an uncovered hominy casserole will explode all over the microwave and set you cleaning for hours.