chicken and rice

Photo: Keiko Oikawa

A No-Fail Classic with a Pleasant Surprise
This uncomplicated chicken-and-rice dish from none other than Nigella Lawson would be as welcome on a Wednesday night as it is on a casual dinner-party night. The no-stress recipe, from her new book Simply Nigella, has you cook onion, garlic, some spices and chicken pieces in an ovenproof pot, then add rice, broth and dried cranberries. You slip it into the oven for an hour, or so, and that's it. The finished dish is warm and satisfying, and has a wonderful burst of flavor from the berries.

Get the recipe: Chicken and Wild Rice
tot casserole

Photo: Ben Fink

A Way to Turn Tater Tots into a Real Meal
Here's proof that you can do wondrous things with the most basic ingredients (and happily, one of them is cheese). This casserole, which uses just six items, plus salt and pepper, is a delicious combination of ground beef, mushrooms and, yes, tater tots, laced with shreds of sharp cheddar cheese.

Get the recipe: Tater Tot Casserole
spinach risotto

Photo: Thinkstock

The Lazy Woman's Risotto
This rich Italian entrée, or side, is a lot quicker and less labor-intensive to make than the classic Arborio rice dish, yet just as tasty. After sautéing an onion, the grains, wine and some broth, you stir in spinach and grated Parmesan, then transfer everything to a baking dish. Pop it into the oven, and 35 minutes later, you've got a hot and bubbly meal.

Get the recipe: Spinach and Risotto Casserole
polenta bake

Photo: Tara Fisher

Another Reason to Keep Polenta Around
Ground polenta—aka corn grits—is an underutilized secret weapon for busy cooks. Long a staple in Italy and the American South, it's cheap and versatile, and the uncooked version will keep in a cupboard, or refrigerator, in an airtight container for up to a year. In this flavorful recipe, you cook the grain until it thickens into a soft cake, then top it with mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and feta. Under the broiler, the tomato skins burst, the mushrooms wilt and the cheese melts; the result is savory and tangy.

Get the recipe: Polenta Bake with Tomato, Feta and Mushrooms
Layered Tortilla Casserole

Photo: Alison Gootee

The Lasagna That Takes a Mexican Turn
Layers of tomatoes, chicken, spinach, mozzarella and tortillas come together in this Mexican spin on the classic Italian casserole. Many of the ingredients are probably in your pantry already; and, if you've got leftover chicken, this is a terrific use for it (you only need a cup, which is about the equivalent of two breasts). Plus, the corn tortillas hold together nicely, making the dish easy to cut and serve.

Get the recipe: Layered Tortilla Casserole