Anatomy of a Midwestern Hot Dish {With Recipes!}

Recently I was discussing supper plans with a friend, and I told her that I had prepped a hamburger hot dish this morning and had it ready to put into the oven when I got home. She looked at me as if I had two heads. She had no idea what I was talking about.

“Hot dish.  You know, a whole bunch of ingredients all baked in one pan? Lots of gooey cheese and stick-to-your-ribs goodness?”

As a child, I grew up calling these types of dinners “casserole.” However, having been married to a Minnesotan for the past 11 years, I have become very familiar with the term Hot Dish. In Minnesota, “Hot Dish” refers to many different hot comfort food concoctions, often filled with cheesy goodness and ready to warm your insides on a cold winter night. You’ll see them at potlucks, church basement suppers, and on dinner tables on many a weekday night.  They can comprise a whole meal on their own, or you can add some biscuits and applesauce or other side dish to flesh things out a little bit.

So what composes a hot dish? While there are as many recipes as there are lakes in Minnesota, the basic formula is the same across most. To make a “Hot dish” you need the following:

Basic Hot Dish Formula

1. Starch

2. Protein

3. Binder

4. Veggie

5. Liquid as needed

6. Toppings/extras as desired

Place all items in a 9 x 13 baking pan and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until heated through.

That’s. It.

With this formula you can come up with all manner of comfort dishes sure the please your family and provide stick-to-your-ribs nutrition. You can take a basic recipe and substitute away with whatever is in your freezer/fridge/pantry.  Even better, many of them are prepared using only one or two pans. And one more bonus–you can prepare them in the morning or the night before and have them ready to pop in the oven after work with little to no additional prep.

Tuna and Noodles Hot Dish

  1. Starch: 1 package wide egg noodles

  2. Protein: Approximately 10 oz chunk light tuna (packed in water)

  3. Binder: 1 can Cream of Mushroom soup

  4. Veggie: 1-2 cups frozen peas and carrots

  5. Liquid: ½ cup milk

  6. Extras: Shredded cheddar cheese to taste

Cook noodles according to package directions. Combine all ingredients including cheese. Spread in a 9×13 baking pan and place in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or until heated through. Top with more cheese during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Cheesy Ground Beef Taco Hot Dish

  1. Starch: 1 cup uncooked long grain white rice

  2. Protein: 1 lb ground beef

  3. Binder: 1 can diced tomatoes (undrained)

  4. Veggie: 1 cup frozen mixed veggies (corn, carrots, peas)

  5. Liquid: 1 ½ cups chicken broth

  6. Extras: 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend, taco seasoning to taste

Brown hamburger in a skillet and drain. Combine all ingredients except 1 cup cheese in a 9×13 pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake covered in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or until heated through and rice is cooked. Remove cover and top with remaining cheese. Heat for an additional 5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Vegetarian Pasta Bake

  1. Starch: 8 oz pasta, either rotini or penne

  2. Protein: 15 oz ricotta cheese

  3. Binder: 24 oz marinara sauce

  4. Veggie: 1 medium onion (diced), 1 large zucchini (chopped), 8 oz sliced mushrooms, one medium tomato (diced)

  5. Liquid: Olive oil for cooking

  6. Extras: 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend, salt and pepper (to taste), chopped parsley

Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Cook onions until soft. Add mushrooms, zucchini, and tomato and cook until soft. Remove pan from heat. Add pasta, ricotta cheese, marinara sauce, and salt and pepper to skillet. Pour mixture into a 9×13 baking dish and top with shredded cheese. Place in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Top with chopped parsley before serving.

So there you go. Three quick hot dish recipes perfect for weekday dinners.

Do you have a favorite hot dish recipe? Share it in the comments!


Sarah Bengtson
Sarah is a proud Iowa native who currently lives in North Liberty with her husband and 2 sons. She grew up in rural Benton county and moved to the Iowa City area in 2005 to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa in Physical Therapy. Now she balances raising two growing boys with a work as a pediatric physical therapist. Outside of work and family, Sarah loves music, playing her cello, running, baking, crochet, church activities, and cheering for the Hawkeyes and the Minnesota Vikings.


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