It’s come to my attention that many of you have never heard of a “hot dish.” So let’s get that issue out of the way right off the bat. A “hot dish” is this: a casserole baked in Minnesota. Simple as that. To flesh out the definition, though, I’ll let you know that hot dish also involves a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex and some Campbell’s Cream of [Fill-in-the-Blank] Soup. And the very best version is Tater Tot Hot Dish, a recipe title that jets me back to my childhood—happily so.
Now, I consider Tater Tot Hot Dish a regional dish. Like queso in Texas, barbecue along parts of the Eastern Sea Board, biscuits in the South—where every cook in the region has a recipe for the dish firmly in his recipe, every good Minnesotan has her own version of Tater Tot Hot Dish. The Tater Tot Hot Dish might not be as glamorized or hallowed as any of these other regional delicacies, but we Minnesotans take it pretty seriously. Just show up to any Lutheran church pot luck: you’ll have your pick of at least a handful of versions.
Tater Tot Hot Dishes recipes, among Minnesotans, are a bit like culinary fingerprints: everyone has one, no two are exactly the same, and you can barely tell two different versions apart unless you look really closely. For instance, my mom, my aunt and my grandma, who lived together under the same small roof for nearly two decades, all have distinct Tater Tot Hot Dish recipes. I would not turn down a scoop (oh, that’s another thing: hot dishes are meant to be scooped, not sliced; if you’re looking for the cohesion of a slice of lasagna or a wedge of gratin, for instance, you are barking up the wrong tree with hot dish) of any of these three ladies’ versions of hot dish (especially not my grandma’s, as she’s been known to shell out a quarter to any grandkid willing to eat her hot dishes), but it almost seems my destiny that I should find a Tater Tot Hot Dish recipe of my own.
And find it I did, after my Sloppy Joe post kicked up a wave of nostalgia in me and a storm of curiosity in you all. So, as promised, I set out to create my own version of the Minnesota classic over the weekend. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that I have a serious predilection for all things homemade (I don’t even like ketchup, for heaven’s sake!). Thus, I couldn’t bring myself to use frozen tater tots or canned mushroom soup. Oh, and I prefer ground turkey over ground beef, so I used that in my version. Yes, that’s right, I took a recipe that has roughly three key ingredients and omitted all of them. Whoopsie!
But I think we did all right with our Tater Tot(-less) Hot Dish. I made a faux cream of [fill-in-the-blank] soup by thickening up some chicken stock with some flour and milk. I also went heavy on the vegetables (leeks and celery) and, for punch and fragrance, I added a pinch of celery seed and herbs de Provence. And I roasted tiny cubes of russet potatoes to stand in for the the tater tots. Yes, I’d say I put my stamp on the Tater Tot Hot Dish. How Minnesotan of me.
Tater Tot(-less) Hot Dish
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and diced (1/4-inch dice)
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 pound ground turkey (light or dark, or a mixture of the two)
1 1/2 cups leeks, trimmed and sliced thinly into half-moons
1 cup celery, sliced thinly into half-moons
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
2 cups chicken stock
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter a large baking dish (a gratin dish or 9×13-inch pan) and set aside.
Toss diced potatoes in 1 tablespoon of the oil and some salt and pepper, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes, turning halfway through. Reduce the oven heat to 350.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven. Add the ground turkey, a small pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until the turkey is nearly cooked through. Add the leeks, celery, garlic, celery seed, herbs de Provence and a pinch of salt and pepper; saute for several minutes until softened.
Add 1/2 cup chicken stock to the pan. Place the flour in a small bowl, and whisk in the milk. Add milk mixture to pan, stirring constantly. Gradually add remaining chicken stock; cook 8 minutes or until mixture thickens.
Pour the turkey mixture into the buttered dish. Top with the roasted potatoes and grated parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.