The Cost of Making Summer Veggie Explosion Casserole

From a recipe I saw in The Establishment.

Piping hot.

I haven’t done one of these “cost of cooking” posts in a while, because I haven’t cooked anything new in forever. This summer has been so hot that I have been surviving on tofu + vegetables + chow mein noodles for dinner and crackers + vegetables + salsa + hummus for lunch. I cool myself down with carrots and cherry tomatoes and sliced avocado, plus whatever it is that make Mrs. Renfro’s Habanero Salsa taste really good on a super-warm day.

For all of you who are “but you used to live in the Midwest and now you live in Seattle, so your summers should be cooler now?” I looked it up, and Seattle summers are now as warm as Missouri summers were in the 1990s. They have all this data online. It is unnerving.

But I did used to live in the Midwest, which meant I grew up loving casseroles—which I’ve featured before on The Billfold as things I actually cook, regularly—so I glommed onto this post from The Establishment like I was cheese melting on a Frito:

Ashley Holstrom has a different relationship with cooking than I do:

The point is turning off the darkness in my head for an hour while I focus on not screwing up this one thing that is so simple, but also so complicated.

The inside of my head is bright, not dark; but it’s also stretched taut, the edges meeting all of my varied responsibilities and demands while the center organizes and then covers up a bundle of anxieties. (And then rips the covers off to reconfirm that I have organized everything correctly.)

So, even though we’re not coming at it from the same place, I can empathize with Holstrom when she writes that cooking “is the best way I know to take care of myself. In cooking, I ensure that I have sustenance for two or three days.”

I also really, really wanted to try her casseroles.

This is my version of the Summer Veggie Explosion casserole, which I slightly recrafted from Holstrom’s recipe so that I could bake it in my cast-iron pan instead of my 9" x 11" glass baking pan.

I am not going to reveal the recipe, because you should really read Holstrom’s essay for that, but you get the idea.

What I ended up making was not quite a casserole, primarily because I didn’t use enough vegetables to line them all up into a lasagna-like brick of food. But it was exactly enough to feed me for two days (along with a side of quinoa mix from a box), and it was really delicious, and I’ve learned a new recipe to add to my collection.

Here’s how much it cost me:

Summer squash: $0.76

Zucchini: $0.88

Two tomatoes: $0.96

1/2 ball mozzarella cheese: $1.25

Two cloves garlic: $0.25

Two tablespoons olive oil: $0.24

One box Near East Quinoa Blend (Rosemary and Olive Oil flavor): $2.50

Total cost: $6.84

Cost per meal: $3.42

People have commented before that it doesn’t seem like I enjoy cooking, since I always end up doing things like making quinoa from a box or not bothering to stack my vegetables into a brick. That’s not true. I very, very, very much enjoy cooking. What I really love, especially when I’m cooking just for myself, is getting to play with things. To leave out the mushrooms because I don’t like mushrooms, to be a little sloppy with my vegetables, to correctly assume that everything will taste fine because I’m covering it in the fancy cheese from the deli section. (It’s only the deli section at Safeway, so… not that fancy.)

And I got to play with this one: chopping vegetables and tearing off cheese with my fingers and smelling garlic everywhere. For me, that’s the part of cooking that feels like self-care.

So read Holstrom’s piece and see if there’s a casserole that catches your eye. I’ll also return the favor by sharing one of my favorite casserole recipes: