Missing a crucial ingredient in your favorite cold weather supper? Don't fret! Here are the simple pantry swaps that will still yield a delicious dinner casserole.

By Alyssa Sybertz
December 17, 2020

During the chilliest months of the year, there are countless nights when we crave a warm and comforting casserole…only to discover that we don't have the rice or the soup or the potatoes. The good news: These bubbly, heartwarming meals are very forgiving when it comes to subbing in alternate ingredients that you find in your pantry. Here, the simple ingredient swaps that guarantee a delicious casserole without an extra trip to the grocery store.

If you don't have the rice…

Rice is the go-to starch in many of our casseroles. It serves as a simple base, mixes well with any add-ins, and always stays moist and delicious. But even though it's a pantry staple, there are days when it runs out. Fortunately, almost any grain you have on hand can work as a replacement. Quinoa, farro, barley, or bulgur can all be subbed in. The key is checking your recipe to see if you typically cook the rice first before mixing it in with the other casserole ingredients. If so, you'll be able to use any grain provided that you also cook it first. But if your recipe has you mixing uncooked rice in with the other ingredients, pouring it all into a casserole dish and baking (like this Busy Day Chicken Rice Casserole), then you'll want to choose a heartier grain with a similar cooking time to rice, like barley or farro, to ensure your casserole doesn't become mushy.

If you don't have the noodles…

Noodles are just as popular as rice in casseroles, if not more so. Those that feature bigger or heartier ingredients, like shredded chicken, tuna, or meatballs, tend to call for a larger pasta like egg noodles to hold everything together (similar to a lasagna). But if all you have are tiny shells or macaroni, don't fret: The texture and the make-up of each bite will be slightly different, but your casserole will be just as tasty. The reverse is also true — if you're making Baked Macaroni and Cheese and you only have fettuccine or jumbo shells, feel free to throw them in. As long as you're using the total amount of pasta that's called for (in ounces or pounds) it's going to cook the same. If you're out of noodles all together, feel free to sub in a grain — if it's cooked before it goes into the baking dish it will come out as steamy and gooey as the original.

If you don't have the ground beef…

If the rice and the noodles are the hamburger bun, then the protein is the burger itself — you could have one without the other, but together they make a complete meal. Since it breaks down into small pieces and cooks so quickly, ground beef is one of the easiest proteins to work with, which is why it's made its way into so many casserole recipes, like this Beef Nacho Casserole. If you're fresh out, your first choice for a swap should be another ground protein, like turkey, chicken, or pork, which will slightly alter the flavor but maintain the texture of the dish. But even chuck roast or shredded chicken can work in a pinch! Again, make sure it's cooked ahead of time if the ground beef normally is. If not, try to cut the meat into bite-size pieces to ensure it cooks completely.

If you don't have the soup…

Every casserole needs a sauce or a binder, something to bring all the ingredients together. Without one, you've just got a pile of ingredients in a dish! Many recipes rely on canned soups for this element, such as cream of chicken or cream of mushroom, since they also add effortless flavor to the casserole. But if there's no soup in your pantry, your alternate options are plentiful. Besides bringing all the ingredients together, the sauce also ensures that the casserole is not dry. So as long as you add the amount of liquid that's called for, the liquid you choose is less important to how well the dish cooks (though it will affect the flavor). Instead of soup, try using chicken or vegetable stock, maybe mixed with some milk or cream if you want to retain the creamy texture. You could also use jarred marinara, alfredo, or enchilada sauce, like in this Pizza Casserole.

If you don't have the potatoes…

Potatoes round out the classic casserole starch trifecta. They form a fluffy layer atop this American Shepherd's Pie and a crispy base in this Tater Tot Taco Casserole. But if you run out of spuds, there are a few alternatives. First, the obvious: If your recipe calls for russet potatoes and you have a few sweet spuds on hand, they can be prepared exactly the same way, as can butternut squash. If you normally use raw potatoes but have some frozen home fries, hash browns, or tater tots in your freezer, you can swap them in. Finally, cauliflower and parsnips would also be a worthy replacement — their mild flavor and texture is similar to that of potatoes. Simply prepare as directed!