Oven-baked, Broccoli-cheese Wild Rice Casserole

A friend shared this recipe with me and I instantly liked i, since it called for wild rice, which I had not eaten in nearly fifty years! And recently, after cooking many beef, chicken, pasta and sausage dishes, I felt ready for something mostly vegetarian. However too, I often like to switch up ingredients in recipes, adding and subtract things to make the dish a signature one for me. Also with some dishes I substitute ingredients if there is something I don’t have in my pantry or fridge and I don’t want to run to the store for just that one thing. Of course when I do dash off to the store, I naturally get 1 + 10 more items! Many people can certainly relate to that one.

For all these 50 years, I believed that wild rice was indeed rice, how could it not be! But a friend t old me it was not a true rice at all, and that was a huge surprise to me. I researched this information and my friend was correct. Wild rice is not a grain, but, it is the seed of a native North American long-grain grass. It’s an aquatic grass that grows best in shallow clay-bottomed lakes. I discovered it grows in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas and North Dakota and parts of Canada. Partially it’s grown by a native group of Americans and Canadians called the Ojibwe. I learned how it was grown and harvested–a great deal of hard work, machine or otherwise– and now see why it’s expensive. And why too, because of the expense, wild rice is sold mostly as a blend with other kinds of rice.

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium size shallots, sliced thin

8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced or any other mushroom

1 Tbsp. dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. butter – salted or unsalted

1 pkg.(16 oz.) frozen broccoli florets or two large heads broccoli, cut in 1-2 inch pieces

2 cups fresh spinach, coarsely chopped – not too tightly packed

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated

2 1/8th cup water

2 1/8th cup chicken stock

Process

1 Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2 Heat the olive oil in a very large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. After a few minutes as the oil begins to shimmer, add the shallots and cook 3-5 minutes as they turn fragrant and a bit tender, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms, thyme, and the salt and pepper. Cook, undisturbed for about 5 minutes as they turn golden, but do not let anything burn. Add the butter and the wild rice mix, cook a few minutes as the rice gets slightly toasted. Slowly pour in the water and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook, covered for about 45-50 minutes, until most of the rice has absorbed the water.

3 Once the rice is cooked, stir in the broccoli, spinach, and 1/2 cup each of the cheeses. If necessary, cook several minutes on low as the vegetables cook down. Season a little more with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

4 Transfer to t he oven, covered for 15 minutes, then uncover, and bake 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and just beginning to turn faintly brown. If the casserole seems to be a bit dry at all, add a few tablespoons of water.

5 If you’ve tried a similar recipe, please let me know, or make a suggestion of what else to add to this casserole.

Tips and Tweaks:

1 For some crunch, at step 3 add one can of water chestnuts, drained.

2 Add different spices, such as oregano, cayenne pepper, chili peppers, cut-up, whatever you and friends like. For a Chinese flare with spice, try Chinese Five Spice, or Old Bay seasoning for a bit more salt and a kick to your palate!

3 Try other meting cheeses, such as Fontina, Mozzarella, or Swiss.

4 If shallots are not available, use white or yellow onions, or even 10 scallion, using the green and white parts.

5 For more umami flavor, at step 3, stir in one tablespoon of soy sauce and one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

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