Adding a topping to casseroles and braised dishes can transform them into a special meal. It is also an easy way to create a one-pot meal with no need for extra accompaniments. Many topping are arranged on top of the casserole pr braised and cooked as an integral part of the dish. Others are cooked separately, then served with the dish.
These are ideal for casseroles and stews but are unsuitable for braised dishes because they need plenty of simmering liquid to cook in. if the casserole is cooking on a low setting, increase the temperature to high about 30 minutes before adding the dumplings. This recipe makes enough to serve four.
- Sift 114g/4 oz/1 cup self-raising (self rising) flour and a little salt and pepper into a mixing bowl. Stir in 50g/2 oz shredded beef or vegetable suet. Mix in about 75ml/5 tbsp chilled water to make a soft but not sticky dough.
- Using floured hands, shape the mixture into 8 medium or 2 small round dumplings. Alternatively, roll out into a “rope” with a diameter of about 2.5cm/ 1 in cut off 2.5cm/ 1 in pieces.
- Remove the lid from the slow cooker. Working quickly so that heat isn’t lost lower the dumpling into the casserole, spacing them slightly apart. Cover and cook on high for 45 minutes -1 hours, or until well risen and firm. Do not lift the lid during cooking, or the dumpling won’t rise properly. (Alternatively, the dumplings can be cooked separately in a covered shallow pan of simmering stock for 30 minutes. Lift out using a slotted spoon and serve with the casserole. )
Dumpling can be flavouor in many ways. Good choices include herbs or flavoured liquid, such as stock, white wine or cider, instead of water.
Herbs and mustard dumpling go well with rich beef casserole. Sift 5ml/1 tsp mustard powder with the flour and stir in 30-45 ml/2-3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley.
Lemon and tarragon dumpling are good with chicken, turkey and fish casseroles. Stir in the finely grated rind of ½ lemon and 45ml/3 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon.
Caraway and sour cream dumplings work well with beef and veal goulash. Stir in the 5ml/1 tsp caraway seeds and mix the dry ingredients together with a mixture of half sour cream and half chilled water.
Mushroom dumplings go well with beef and pork casseroles. Stir 50g/2 oz very finely chopped mushrooms into the dumpling mixture.
Rosemary dumplings are good with lamb casseroles. Stir in 2.5-5ml/ ½ -1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary.
Sliced, grated and mashed potatoes make a good topping for casseroles and some braised dishes. If you like, they can be browed in the oven or under a grill (broiler) before serving. Sliced and grated potatoes are usually added at the beginning of cooking; mashed potatoes are added towards the end. All these recipes make enough to serve four.
Sliced potato topping: Thinly slice 675g/1 ½ lb potatoes and arrange over the top of the casserole at the beginning of cooking. Make sure there is just enough liquid to cover the potatoes. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4-5 hours until tender. To brown the top before serving, brush the potatoes with a little melted butter and place under a hot grill (broiler) for 3-4 minutes.
Grated potato topping: Grate 675g/1 ½ lb potatoes, then blanch in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain well and squeeze out any excess liquid. Stir in 15ml/1 tbsp melted butter or olive oil, then sprinkle evenly over the surface of the casserole. Cook on low for 4-6 hours, or on high for 2-3 hours. If you like, brown under the grill.
Creamy mashed potato topping: Boil 900g/2lb peeled floury potatoes (such as King Edward or Maris Piper) until tender. Drain well, return to the pan and add 50g/2 oz/ ¼ cup butter, or 30ml/2 tbsp olive oil. Mash with a potato masher until smooth, then beat in 75ml/5 tbsp hot milk or cream, salt, pepper and grated nutmeg. Spoon on top of the casserole or braised dish, spreading out evenly. Cover and cook in the slow cooker for 1 hour. Alternatively, bake in an oven preheated to 190 Gas 5 for minutes, or brown the top under a medium grill (broiler).
This golden-yellow cornmeal topping goes well with Mediterranean-style stews. Mixed with flour, milk and egg, polenta makes a cornbread topping.
Basic polenta topping: Bring 2 litres/3 ½ pints/8 cups water with 5ml/1 tsp salt to the boil in a large, heavy pan. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in 375g/13 oz/3 cups fine polenta, whisking continuously. Return the pan to the heat and stir for 15 minutes, until thick. Season well with salt and pepper. This soft polenta can be used in the same way as mashed potato topping.
Polenta triangles: Spoon the basic polenta mixture on to a wet board and spread out to 1cm/ ½ in thick. Leave to set for 1 hour, then cut into triangles. One hour before the end of cooking time, arrange the polenta on top of the casserole. To serve, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and grill.
Cornbread topping: Mix 175g/6 oz/1 ½ cups fine cornmeal with 15ml/1 tbsp wholemeal (whole-wheat) flour and 5ml/1 tsp baking powder. Make a well in the centre and add 1 beaten egg and 175ml/6fl oz/ ¾ cup milk. Mix, then quickly spoon over the top of the casserole. Cover and cook for 1 hour until firm, if you like, brown under a grill.
These can be cooked in the slow cooker, but are much better baked in the oven. They work well with braised dishes and chunky casseroles with only a little sauce or gravy. This recipe serves four.
- Sift 175g/6oz/1 ½ cups plain (all-purpose) white or wholemeal (whole-wheat) flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Rub in 90g/3 ½ oz/7 tbsp butter or margarine until the mixture resembles very fine breadcrumbs.
- Stir in 50g/2 oz/ ½ cup chopped or 30-45ml/2-3 tbsp porridge oats, 25g/1 oz grated mature (sharp) Cheddar cheese, or 25g/1 oz sunflower seeds.
- Preheat the oven to 190 /375 /Gas 5. Sprinkle the topping over the casserole in an even layer, then bake uncovered for 30 minutes until golden.
Sliced, cubed or crumbled, many types of bread may be used, from sliced white to textured wholegrain.
Breadcrumb topping: Preheat the oven to 150 2. Combine 75g/3 oz/1 ½ cups breadcrumbs with 30ml/2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves. Sprinkle over the casserole and bake for about 30-4- minutes until golden.
Cheesy French bread topping: Lightly toast 6-12 thick slices of day-old baguette on both sides. Rub one side of each slice with a halved garlic clove, then spread with a little French mustard. Sprinkle over 115g/4 oz/1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere cheese and grill until the cheese bubble. Arrange on top of the casserole and serve immediately.