Broccoli cheese casserole is a veggie-forward comfort food you can whip up quickly on a weeknight! Tender steamed broccoli, flavorful Italian sausage, crunchy croutons and sliced tomatoes are layered under a blanket of creamy cheese sauce before being popped in the oven until everything is bubbly and golden. It’s a delicious way to eat your veggies!
A Family Recipe
As kids we never fussed about eating our veggies because my mom knew how to make them delicious! Growing up, this casserole was a staple on our dinner table and one of my favorite dinners. When I had kids I made it for them and now my oldest daughter makes it for hers. It’s been a favorite for three generations now and I think that’s testament to how good it is!
My mom says this is the only recipe she completely made up on her own. She’d sent it in to Better Homes and Gardens Magazine hoping that they would publish it in their Readers Recipes column. But they never did. My guess is that they looked at it and thought “Too much broccoli, not enough meat”. Not something people were feeding their families in the meat-and-potatoes-heavy mentality of the 70’s-80’s. Fast forward to today and many of us are looking for ways to cut back on the meat we consume and increase our vegetables. Funny how times change.
I think BH&G and their readers really missed out…so today I am righting that wrong!
A Farewell Dinner Request
My middle daughter moved away this past spring. Not “she moved an hour south” moved away…we’re talking halfway across the country moved away. 1,565 miles to be exact. Leading up to moving day I kept reminding myself that we raise our kids so that they have the tools they need to fly away. We raise them to be independent and to create their own paths in life. And there’s such a short window of time when they have the ability to make such a big move without disrupting established homes and careers or uprooting kids.
Still…Ugh… I had such conflicted emotions about her leaving.
But, I can say now it’s been a really great move for her. And I’m proud of her for having the courage to pack up all of her belongings, drive across the country and make a new home in a place where she was a total stranger.
It’s kind of bad-ass, actually.
Food is so much more than sustenance. It’s memories, it’s comfort, it’s love. And sometimes it’s a goodbye.
So, we had a farewell dinner for her a couple days before her big drive and I told her I would make anything she wanted. ANYTHING. And this is what she asked for… broccoli cheese casserole and blueberry muffins. It may seem like an odd request -considering she could have requested anything she wanted- but really it makes total sense. This was a meal that represented her childhood- like a comforting, familiar hug warming her from the inside out. And as I made it for her that night I was comforted, too, by all of the loving memories it brought back for me.
I love that about food.
What Do You Need For Broccoli Cheese Casserole?
- One head fresh broccoli
- One tomato
- 1/2 pound bulk Italian sausage
- 2 slices firm white bread OR 1 cup packaged croutons
- 1 1/2 cups your choice shredded cheese
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- Salt & pepper
Two Birds One Stone
When my mom made this she used store bought croutons, so feel free to do the same. I prefer to make our own and I’ve simplified that process by making the croutons right along side the sausage, on the same baking sheet.
Cooking them together is simple. While you’re preheating the oven you’ll cut the bread into crouton size cubes and toss with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Next, break the sausage up into bite size pieces and arrange with the bread cubes on a lined baking sheet. Lining the sheet is optional but it makes clean up easier!
Slide the sheet into the oven and bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. I like to turn the croutons halfway through. When it’s done you can remove the sausage to a paper towel lined plate to remove some of the drippings like my mom did, but I’ll admit to skipping this step sometimes. Let’s call it optional 🙂
How To Cook Broccoli
While the sausage and croutons are baking, you’ll steam the broccoli. I like to cut it into bigger pieces with 2-3 florets each. In these photos I had broccoli crowns only, but I use broccoli with stems, too. When cooking broccoli with stems make sure you peel them because the skin can be tough.
Cooking the broccoli just to the crisp-tender point- and no more- is key. If you’ve had overcooked, limp broccoli you know what I’m talking about! The best way to get that bright green, perfectly cooked broccoli is to steam it.
I use a pot with a collapsible steamer basket but if you don’t have one you can also steam broccoli in a skillet with a tight fitting lid. Steaming broccoli preserves it’s bright green color and crisp-tender, fresh taste. Bonus- it literally takes 5 minutes!
How To Make A Cheese Sauce
Knowing how to make a basic cheese sauce is a cooking skill that will come in handy for so many recipes. Think vegetable gratin, macaroni and cheese, baked potatoes, nachos, drizzled over an omelet or poached eggs, as a dip for pretzel bites. In this recipe my mom always used American cheese. I like to use a combination of sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack. If you want it more like a Mornay Sauce use equal parts gruyere and parmesan. It’s flexible!
You’ll start by melting butter in a sauce pan. Once it’s melted add flour and stir over med-low heat until the flour is absorbed and then 1 minute longer. You want to cook the flour taste out but you don’t want it to brown. This is called a roux.
Next, slowly add your milk, whisking constantly and making sure to get into the corners of the sauce pan. Continue whisking/stirring until the mixture thickens. This will take a few minutes. Once it’s thickened turn off the heat and add your cheese, a handful at a time, whisking to incorporate after each addition, until all of the cheese is added and the sauce is creamy and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
It’s important to add the cheese off-heat and to stir between additions. If you add it all at once while the heat is still on your sauce may end up separated and lumpy- and nobody wants that.
Take a look at my Eggs Goldenrod recipe for more detailed photos on how to make a basic white sauce. It’s another childhood favorite!
Putting It All Together
Once you’ve cooked the sausage/croutons, steamed the broccoli and made the cheese sauce the only thing left to do is layer your ingredients into a casserole dish, pop it in the oven and wait. My mom always served this with little ramekins of apple sauce and some kind of muffin. It’s a complete meal on it’s own but I usually follow her lead and do the same 🙂
Humble. Comforting. Delicious.
This is a laid-back, flexible recipe.
Although broccoli is the star of this dish, when I was little I thought the best part was the cheesy-chewy croutons. I mean, I LOVED them. On the flip side I had a love-hate relationship with the cooked tomatoes. Now the tomatoes are one of my favorite parts- their tart “pop” of flavor balances the creamy, richness of the sauce.
You can sub cauliflower for the broccoli. Mix up the cheese. Add seasonings (a little cayenne?). I’ve even used sliced kielbasa when I forgot to pick up sausage. And I’ve probably baked it in every size and shape of casserole dish I own.
Make it your own!
I hope your family loves this simple weeknight casserole as much as mine does! I’d love to see pictures and hear how it turns out for you so let me know in the comments or tag me on fb or instagram @breathingandcooking
- 1 head broccoli
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 1/2 pound bulk Italian sausage
- 2 slices firm white bread (can sub 1 cup purchased croutons)
- Olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups your choice of shredded cheese (I use a mix of cheddar and monterey jack)
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 3 Tbsp flour
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil. Break sausage into bite sized pieces and arrange on baking sheet.
- Cut bread into cubes, toss with 2 Tbsp of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread them out on baking sheet around sausage. Bake together 10 minutes, turn bread cubes, and bake another 5-10 minutes until sausage is cooked through and bread cubes are crisp. If using purchased croutons just bake the sausage 15-20 minutes, no need to turn anything half way through.
- Cut broccoli into sections with several florets each and steam for about 5 minutes or until tip of paring knife slides in and out of stem easily. See notes to avoid overcooking. Arrange cooked broccoli in casserole dish.
- Arrange sliced tomatoes over broccoli, followed by cooked sausage and croutons (store bought or homemade).
- Make cheese sauce. Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add flour once butter is melted, stir constantly until flour is completely absorbed and 1 minute longer (keep heat low so that it doesn't brown). Slowly add milk, whisking constantly and making sure to get into the edges of the saucepan. Continue whisking over med-low heat until mixture thickens and bubbles gently. This will take several minutes.
- Once sauce is thick, turn off heat and add cheese (reserve a little to sprinkle over casserole before baking), a handful at a a time. Whisking to melt between each addition until all cheese has been added. Add salt and pepper to taste. The amount of salt will depend on the type of cheese you use.
- Pour sauce over broccoli mixture, sprinkle reserved cheese over top and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, until bubbly and golden.
To steam broccoli place a steamer basket into a pot large enough to hold broccoli in one layer. Put an inch of water in pan, cover and heat until water boils. Add broccoli, cover, and steam for 5 minutes. Check broccoli by sliding the tip of a sharp knife into the thickest part. It should pierce easily and still be bright green. Try not to go longer than 5 minutes because it goes from crisp-tender and bright green to limp and brownish-green quickly! Remove broccoli immediately so that it doesn't overcook.
If you don't have a steamer basket you can do the same thing in a wide saute pan with a lid. An inch of water, bring to a boil, add broccoli, steam 5 minutes. remove immediately.