Five Great Minnesota Versions of Hotdish (a.k.a. Casserole)

Turkey tetrazzini, the bane of every single Thanksgiving weekend in the state of Minnesota.
Turkey tetrazzini, the bane of every single Thanksgiving weekend in the state of Minnesota.

As winter approaches, with its occasional rain and frigid mid-50s-high temperatures, people break out the sweaters, boots and think about hot, stick-to-your-ribs food. In the winter, a lot of baking happens and a lot of lasagne, but when it's chilly out, I think of the time I spent in Minnesota and Iowa -- and about hotdish.

What, exactly, is hotdish? It's a casserole, except in Minnesota, the casserole is the dish it comes in, and hotdish is what goes inside. It's nearly always made from some kind of starch (nothing fancy -- rice, noodles or potatoes) and meat, often ground beef, held together with cream of mushroom soup, so ubiquitous in the state it's often referred to in church recipe booklets--yes, that still happens--as Lutheran binder. Cheese makes a regular appearance, and canned or frozen vegetables such as corn, peas or green beans may be mixed in.

While some hotdish has spread -- tuna-noodle hotdish is common throughout the United States, and the turkey tetrazzini pictured is nearly universal after the turkey sandwiches and just before the turkey soup in the pantheon of Thanksgiving leftovers -- nobody does hotdish like Minnesotans. Here are five of the state's finest.

5. Plain (Regular) Hotdish

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When someone says they're having hotdish for supper and won't elaborate, this is what they mean: the basic model, constructed of ground beef, some kind of tomatoes (for example, canned tomato sauce, or maybe tomato paste mixed with tomato juice), pasta (usually elbow macaroni), cheese (often Cheddar, but sometimes Velveeta), salt and pepper. There's no Lutheran binder in this one; it's more like the world's least-interesting baked ziti.

4. Green bean hotdish

Everyone knows this one! It's green beans and Lutheran binder with Durkee brand fried onions on top. It's spread from its Midwestern roots to take over Thanksgiving tables all over the country. I've tried to gussy this up by using fresh Blue Lake green beans and making my own cream of mushroom soup, and it sucked. Alton Brown's tried it, too, and it doesn't work. It has to be canned for it to taste right.

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