The biscuits move this casserole from the ordinary to the sublime.

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The phrase “comfort food” first appeared in print in 1966, though the concept is much older.

Everyone has their own definition of what the phrase means, but most people will agree that it is food that makes you feel better emotionally when you eat it. Often it is a dish that harks back to childhood. Think grilled cheese sandwich.

For me, comfort food has three qualities. First, it has to be warm. As much as I like ice cream, it doesn’t fit the bill as a comfort food. Second, it has to have familiar flavors and be filling. Third, it has to be easy to prepare. Spending hours in the kitchen doesn’t induce comfort.

One of my favorite comfort foods is a winter vegetable casserole topped with biscuits. It has no exotic spices and is basically prepared with one pan. It uses common vegetables easily found in the supermarket.

It is the biscuits, though, that move the dish from the ordinary to the sublime. With the addition of herbs to the biscuits, the kitchen is filled with savory aromas while the dish is baking.

I use a large cast iron frying pan to both prepare and bake the dish. If you don’t have one, use a large oven-proof dish instead. With this mild winter, I still have a lot of herbs in my garden, but there is no need to spend a lot of money buying fresh herbs. Dried will work fine.

Winter Vegetable Casserole

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 teaspoons paprika

1 carrot, sliced

1 large potato, cut in 1-inch cubes

2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 sweet potato, cut in 1-inch cubes

11/2 cups broccoli florets

2 small zucchini, cut in 1-inch cubes

11/2 cups water or stock

11/2 teaspoons salt or to taste

For the biscuits

1 cup flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, or 1 teaspoon dried herbs

2 tablespoons cold butter cut into small cubes

1/3 cup milk

Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron frying pan and add the onion. Cook until the onion is transparent, about 7 minutes. Then stir in the garlic and paprika, and cook for one minute more. Add the vegetables, tomatoes, water and salt, and bring to a boil.

Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the biscuits.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and herbs. Add the butter pieces. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until it has the texture of bread crumbs. Add the milk and mix well.

Gather the dough together and knead lightly on a floured board. Form 8 balls and place the biscuits on top of the casserole. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.

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