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Classic Southern Casseroles: Broccoli Casserole

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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“Finish your broccoli.” If Mama’s mealtime mandate filled you with dread, you probably won’t want to read any further. But if you were the kid asking for seconds, keep going. This topic is one that should fill you with warm fuzzies and propel those salivary glands into overdrive: broccoli casserole.

The cheesy, creamy, buttery side dish hits all the right Southern notes. If broccoli had a superpower, it would be its ability to grab all the ingredients and hold on tight for a casserole that is savory and satisfying from first to last bite. The grassy, sweet, slightly bitter flavor doesn’t get bogged down in the binders but is enhanced by the contrast of tastes and texture.

But let’s get real: While broccoli is a good-for-you veggie, there’s not much to commend broccoli casserole, health-wise. The typical Southern version calls for eggs as well as mayonnaise, cheese and butter—lots of it. And don’t forget the finishing touch of crushed buttery crackers or coarse, buttered breadcrumbs. A broccoli casserole without a toasty topping isn’t Southern. Period. If you want the real deal, don’t skimp on the naughty stuff. But do plan an hour or two at the gym the next day.

Because of its filling nature, broccoli casserole is perfect for potlucks, church suppers, funeral gatherings and Sunday family dinners. A little goes a long way to feed a crowd. Some South Carolina cooks give it a little more heft by adding cooked chicken or rice to the mix, thereby creating a one-dish meal. Others up their casserole game by using a mix of mayo and condensed cream of mushroom soup, aka casserole convenience in a can. You can go straight cheddar or add a blend of cheeses, depending on the level of warm gooiness you’re after. Other than that, forego those fancy trends you read about in magazines. Save the shallots, thyme and mushrooms for a jazzed-up green bean casserole.

Broccoli casserole is always a high-demand item at meat-and-threes, diners and cafes. Here’s a sampling of SC restaurants where the broccoli casserole disappears quickly:

Backyard Barbecue, Loris

Bogarts, West Columbia

Bubba Annie’s, Greer

Cahill’s Market and Chicken Kitchen, Bluffton

Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Greenville

Clover Station, Clover

Julia Belle’s, Florence

King’s Farm Market, Edisto Island

Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, Myrtle Beach

Workmen’s Cafe, Charleston

Make it
You don’t have to know your way around the kitchen to put together a great broccoli casserole. Here’s an easy recipe that delivers all the rich, delicious Southern flavors you are craving.

Southern Broccoli Casserole
6 cups chopped, fresh broccoli florets
1 (10 3/4oz) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup mayonnaise
½ stick butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ medium onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese, (reserve half a cup for topping)
1 full sleeve Ritz crackers, finely crushed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a casserole dish. Cook broccoli in a pot of simmering water for about 5 minutes—do not overcook. Cool and coarsely chop. In a large bowl, mix broccoli, mayo, soup, butter, onion, eggs, salt and pepper. Gradually add the cup of cheese, mixing between additions. Transfer the concoction to the baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with the crushed crackers. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown. Remove from oven and let the casserole sit for about 15 minutes before serving. Now, make Mama happy and clean your plate.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.