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Microwave . . .

Casseroles Don't Have to Be Time-Consuming

October 23, 1986|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN | Hansen is a Louisville-based cooking consultant specializing in microwaving

Despite the trend toward lighter eating, there's still room for a rib-sticking casserole in everyone's culinary files. Traditionally, these casseroles are composed of meat with a hearty starch ingredient--potatoes, rice, pasta or stuffing--and a gravy or sauce to bind them together. They're generally inexpensive, filling and satisfying, especially in cooler weather. At my house, the children like them much better than quiches, sandwiches and even ethnic dishes.

In converting several of my favorite casseroles to microwave, I found that not only did I save an impressive amount of cooking time, I saved dish washing. This is especially true when the casserole starts with a sauce or gravy, which cooks in the microwave without scorching on the bottom. Microwave techniques also make it possible to create the entire dish in one pan.

With a scalloped ham and potato casserole, for instance, what is at least a two-pot recipe conventionally (one for the sauce, one for the baking) requires only one pot. When making the sauce, use a wire whisk to break up soft lumps that may form during the rapid microwave boiling.

Leftovers of this casserole stay fresh-tasting in the refrigerator a few days, and individual portions reheat beautifully in about two to three minutes on HIGH. If your family eats at different times during the evening or over several days, having leftovers of this casserole ready to reheat in the microwave can be a lifesaver.

This recipe saves you at least half the time over conventional methods.

ZESTY POTATOES AND HAM

3 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup chopped onion (1 small)

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 1/2 cups milk

4 cups thinly sliced, unpeeled potatoes (5 medium)

2 cups cubed cooked ham (about 1/2 pound)

Place butter and onion in 2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover and microwave on HIGH 3 to 5 minutes until onion is transparent. Stir in flour, salt, cayenne and black pepper until smooth. Stir in milk. Microwave on HIGH 8 to 12 minutes, whisking every 3 minutes, until smooth and slightly thickened.

Layer half of potatoes into sauce, then all of ham, then remaining potatoes. Press potatoes into dish, spooning sauce over top. Cover and microwave on HIGH 19 to 23 minutes, stirring to mix potatoes and ham after 10 minutes. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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