Parmesan Cheesy Broccoli Casserole with Crispy Breadcrumbs
In the first year of my marriage, I had two dinner-oriented goals. 1) Convince my husband to like vegetables, and 2) Make a chicken pot pie he would deem as good as his mother’s. Thanks to recipes like this Parmesan Cheesy Broccoli Casserole, Goal #1 was easy. Goal #2…not so much.
To anyone who struggles to convince family members to eat their veggies, this cheesy broccoli casserole recipe and the concept behind it will be your heroes. I can’t take credit for the culinary wonder that is veggies coated in a cheesy, creamy sauce, topped with crispy breadcrumbs, then baked to golden perfection (for that we owe the French—it’s called a gratin), but I am quite grateful for its existence.
Broccoli gratin is a really fancy way of saying, “cheesy broccoli casserole.” Doesn’t gratin just sound so much more sophisticated? Never mind that I snarfed my two servings of this broccoli casserole in a pair leggings that is no longer acceptable to wear in public.
Classic gratins, while undeniably tasty, often call for an overwhelming quantity of heavy cream and butter. Since my goal was to create a side dish that would both convince my husband to like broccoli and be healthy enough for an average weeknight (vs. Thanksgiving dinner), I played around with this broccoli casserole recipe until I was happy with the results. A reduced amount of butter, non-fat milk, and white whole wheat flour keep the recipe on the healthier end, while a full-flavored extra sharp cheddar cheese ensures that the broccoli casserole still has plenty of flavor.
This first time I made a cheese and broccoli casserole for Ben, he inhaled it, along with 80% of the breadcrumb topping. Since then, he’s come around to veggies in other, non-casserole forms, but this was the gateway recipe. (Maple Balsamic Brussels Sprouts are another favorite.)
Rivaling Ben’s mother’s chicken pot pie, however, proved to be more difficult. After fussing with several labor-intensive recipes that required (among other things), making my own pie crust and roasting a whole chicken, I gave up and called his mom. It wasn’t that Ben didn’t like the pot pies—they just “didn’t taste the same.”
Her secret: the recipe came from the back of an old turkey breast package (she swapped chicken), and she used store-bought pie crust. I was relieved. Now, I could direct my homemade whole wheat pie crust efforts towards more noble ends—like Bourbon Buttermilk Pie.
Now whenever Ben or I is craving a taste of childhood comforts, I’m happy to skip the fuss of making my own pot pie and pick one up from Pick ‘N Save, my local Wisconsin grocery store, instead. Each pot pie is individually sized for one extra hungry person or two more moderate eaters who are enjoying a serving of cheese broccoli casserole along with it. Available in both chicken and beef, the pot pies are made fresh daily, and all of the ingredients hail from Wisconsin.
No fussing over veggies, combined with no-fuss comfort food: goals attained.
Parmesan Cheesy Broccoli Casserole
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter — divided
- 3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 5 cups coarsely chopped broccoli florets — (about 1 1/4 pounds)
- 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 3/4 cups non-fat milk
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper — optional
- 1/2 cup freshly grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a wide, deep cast iron or other ovenproof skillet. Once melted, pour the butter into a small mixing bowl, then combine with the Panko breadcrumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the same skillet. Sprinkle the white whole wheat flour over the top, then whisk constantly for 1 minute, until the butter smells fragrant and the flour turns slightly golden. Very slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly, adding a little at a time so that you break up the clumps of flour as you go. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes, allowing the mixture to bubble. Stir in the garlic powder, salt, mustard, black pepper, and cayenne (if using). Remove the skillet from the heat, then stir in the cheddar until smooth.Add the reserved broccoli, stir to coat, then pat the broccoli into an even layer in the skillet. (Alternatively, if you feel your skillet is not large enough to easily stir in the broccoli without it spilling out, you can combine the two in a separate bowl, then transfer the mixture back into the skillet.)
- Sprinkle the Panko mixture evenly over the top of the broccoli. Bake until hot and the topping is crisp and light golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. For an even crisper topping, place the skillet under your broiler for a few minutes at the end, watching carefully so that it doesn’t burn. Let stand 5 minutes, then serve.
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In case you need another excuse to eat pot pie, September 23rd is National Pot Pie Day. Break out the forks and celebrate this classic comfort food!
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