Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

This Sour Cream Noodle Bake is Midwestern Casserole Culture at its Finest

by 
Cassandra Brooklyn
May 27, 2022

I dare you to find someone who was raised in the Midwest but, somehow, did not grow up eating unimaginable quantities of casserole. I grew up in Wisconsin where everyone I knew referred to the baked concoction as “casserole,” though residents of neighboring states might call it a “bake” or “hotdish.”

While this type of dish may have several names and there’s a seemingly endless number of ways to prepare them, one thing is certain: Casseroles, bakes, and hotdishes are Midwestern through and through. There’s just something special about a slice, scoop, or serving of ooey gooey goodness on a frigid Midwestern winter evening.

They’re also – like most Midwesterners – pretty practical.

My father died when I was 8, so the way my mother managed to raise three kids on a part-time, temp-worker salary was by serving meals that were quick, easy, and made from low-cost ingredients that she usually had on hand in the pantry or freezer. We ate casseroles at home at least once per week, in addition to eating them at grandma’s house, at family gatherings, and at church potlucks and picnics.

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In our house, our definition of a casserole was any baked dish that had a starch (usually pasta or rice), a meat (typically ground beef or canned tuna), a cheese (shredded cheddar or mozzarella), a vegetable (typically frozen peas, green beans, or mixed veggies), and any variety of canned creamed soup (cream of celery and cream of mushroom were my mom’s favorites). If we were lucky, there would also be a sprinkling of French’s fried onions on top that would help mask the flavor of the vegetables that I always left for last. I often sat at the dinner table alone, at least an hour after everyone else had finished their meal. In our house, if you did not eat your vegetables, you did not leave the kitchen table. 

Today, I’m far less veggie-averse. In fact, I’m vegan! And while I make what I think is an equally delicious meat-free version of this with vegan swaps for all the dairy stuff, the rest of my family still laps up this original, and I get why. The ground beef, cheese, and sour cream are warm, rich, and comforting. Green onions lend a pop of sharp flavor and brightness and spinach gives it color and depth,while the cottage cheese fills out the dish so it feels more like a thick casserole and less like  glorified pasta.

When we get together, my family’s meat version bakes on the bottom rack of the oven while my vegan version bakes on the top, and the entire family sits down to eat together, continuing the great Midwestern tradition of casserole night.

Sour Cream Casserole

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Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 12 oz package of egg noodles

1 lb ground beef

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

1 tsp garlic salt

1 tsp onion powder

1 cup tomato sauce

1 5 oz package of Fifth Season spinach or 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 cup cottage cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 cup chopped green onions

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided

 | 
 | 
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 12 oz package of egg noodles

1 lb ground beef

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

1 tsp garlic salt

1 tsp onion powder

1 cup tomato sauce

1 5 oz package of Fifth Season spinach or 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 cup cottage cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 cup chopped green onions

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Ingredients

1 12 oz package of egg noodles

1 lb ground beef

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

1 tsp garlic salt

1 tsp onion powder

1 cup tomato sauce

1 5 oz package of Fifth Season spinach or 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 cup cottage cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 cup chopped green onions

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Directions

1.  Prepare the egg noodles per the package instructions. If using fresh baby spinach, add that to the pasta in the last minute of cook time to blanch. Drain and set aside. 

2. While the pasta cooks, brown the ground beef in a large skillet, then add the salt, black pepper, garlic salt, onion powder, and tomato sauce and simmer for another 5 minutes.

3.  Combine the meat mixture with the remaining ingredients, reserving one cup of shredded cheese, and pour it into a lightly-greased 2-quart baking dish. Top it with the remaining cheese. 

4. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

About the Author

Cassandra Brooklyn

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