Broccoli Cheese Casserole (the ultimate make ahead recipe) ~ this is the no frills casserole from scratch your kids will eat, your partner will love, and your friends will rave about…basically it’s your new bff.
This all natural, 5 ingredient broccoli cheese casserole is the way it should be done, without cans.
Put the can opener back in the drawer, we’re using fresh broccoli, quality sharp cheese, pure butter, and creamy half and half, and that pretty much guarantees success. Old school frozen broccoli/canned soup casserole doesn’t stand a chance. And with my make ahead recipe you aren’t sacrificing convenience one bit.
The recipe is no frills, meaning there’s no superfluous ingredients to get in the way of the pure pleasure of creamy cheesy broccoli, which is what made this casserole so universally popular in the first place. It’s important to use good quality sharp cheese so the flavor comes through, I have a pet peeve about cheese sauces made with bland mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese ~ no flavor at all!
What kind of cheese is best for broccoli cheese casserole?
- I’m partial to a nice sharp cheddar cheese. You can use white or yellow. Other sharp cheeses like Gruyere, Emmenthal, Parmesan, Asiago, and Gouda will work, too, but cheddar is easy and readily available.
- Pre-shredded is fine, but you get what you pay for. I love the new premium shredded cheeses from Tillamook (Farmhouse Shreds) and for this casserole I tried a new one, from Kerrygold that was great. I mixed them because I couldn’t decide which one to use. They both have great flavor and melt smoothly ~ and I really appreciate the convenience.
No frozen broccoli allowed!
Some veggies aren’t meant to be frozen, and broccoli is one of them. The texture becomes mushy, and besides, it’s so easy to grab a few stalks in the produce aisle. I chop up the stems, too, they’re delicious and nutritious.
The secret to a great broccoli casserole has a lot to do with how you par-cook the broccoli. I just blanch the florets in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes (no more!) then drain and plunge in ice water. Then I dry them on a clean kitchen towel. The result is bright green broccoli that doesn’t get mushy.
The creamy cheese sauce is made quick and easy with just 4 all natural ingredients…butter, flour, half and half, and cheese. This classic homemade white sauce takes the place of a can of soup.
Flavor variations for the cheese sauce
If you’ve used good quality sharp cheese and you still want to punch up the flavor in this casserole, here are a few suggestions…
- 1-2 teaspoons of your favorite prepared mustard
- minced garlic
- Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
- cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, or nutmeg
- taco seasoning
- a few dashes of hot sauce
- onion salt or garlic salt in place of regular salt
Top it with a final layer of cheese and then you have two choices ~ pop it in the fridge to bake another day, or pop in the oven for immediate gratification!
How to make this broccoli cheese casserole ahead ~
- The entire casserole can be assembled and the wrapped and refrigerated for up to a day ahead.
- Bring the casserole to room temperature (about 2 hours on the counter) before baking.
Classic casseroles from the archives ~
- Favorite Green Bean Casserole from Scratch
- Sweet Corn Spoonbread Casserole
- Butter Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole
- Creamed Brussels Sprouts
- French Potato and Onion Gratin
Broccoli Cheese Casserole From Scratch
- 1 1/2 lb Broccoli crowns (some stem is fine)
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups half and half
- 3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- If making immediately, preheat oven to 350F
- Cut the broccoli, stems included, into bite sized pieces. Plunge in boiling water for 2-3 minutes exactly, then drain and put in ice water to stop cooking. When cold, drain on a clean kitchen towel.
- Meanwhile melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour, stirring to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes, without browning. Slowly add in the half and half, stirring or whiskling constantly, until the mixture thickens. Note: you don't need to bring it to a boil. I usually switch to a silicone spatula at the end to keep the sauce from sticking to the pan or scorching.
- Remove from heat and let cool for 2 minutes. This is important because you don't want the super hot sauce to cause the cheese to curdle. Add 2 cups of the cheese, and stir gently until it melts and the sauce is smooth. Season with salt to taste.
- Toss the broccoli with the warm cheese sauce until evenly coated, and then spoon into a baking dish. Top with the remaining cup of cheese. If making immediately, bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and starting to turn golden on top. You can run it under the broiler briefly at the end for some browning if you like.
- If making ahead, cover tightly with foil and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge and let come to room temperature before baking (about 2 hours.) The baking time will probably be slightly longer for the make ahead casserole.