Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cheesy Greens and Rice Gratin

Having grown up in the upper Midwest, I've been around more than my fair share of casseroles. From time to time that dense and hearty fare is exactly what I'm craving, but for your average meal I'm not looking to eat something that will require a nap immediately after. But who can argue with the glorious collaboration of cheese, rice, and veggies? That's where my grown-up tastes turn to the infinitely customizable, eternally delicious, gratin.

Every kitchen should have at least one variety of grain, spice mix, sauce, nuts or seeds, greens, and cheese, so there's sure to be some iteration of this recipe in easy reach. Have leftover pasta sauce or salsa instead of tomatoes? Absolutely! Cooked quinoa or barley instead of rice? Go for it! Old Bay instead of Za'atar? Sharp cheddar or Parmesan instead of Gruyere? There's no shortage of tasty combinations so go nuts with whatever you have in the fridge and cabinets and find your favorite. My first tasting of this gratin brought together brown rice, salsa, kale, pepitas, and cheddar cheese for a Mexican/Southwestern slant on the recipe. Marinara, pine nuts, and Parmesan give this a nice Italian twist, and orzo and feta cheese could take it in a Greek direction, particularly if you tuck some olives in there as well.

Cheesy Greens and Rice Gratin
adapted from Eat Your Vegetables by Joe Yonan
serves 1

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Za'atar (or other favorite spice blend)
1/4 cup canned crushed tomatoes in their liquid, or 2 chopped plum tomatoes, or 1/4 to 1/2 cup prepared tomato sauce or salsa
3/4 cup cooked brown rice
2 tablespoons toasted pistachios or pine nuts
3/4 cup cooked hearty greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, etc.) or 2 cups chopped fresh leaves
1/4 cup shredded Taleggio or Gruyere, or other good melting cheese

1. Preheat the oven broiler, and adjust the rack to be several inches from the flame.

2. Pour the olive oil into a small cast-iron or other oven/broiler-proof skillet over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the garlic and cook until it starts to become tender. Sprinkle in the za'atar and cook for just a few seconds, letting the spices bubble and bloom. If using fresh greens, add them now. Stir in tomatoes or sauce and rice, taste, and as salt and pepper as needed. Cook for a few minutes to let the flavors combine, then turn off the heat. Stir in the nuts or seeds.

3. Pack the rice mixture down even with a spatula and top with cooked greens (if not using fresh), leaving a ring of rice exposed. Sprinkle with the cheese. Slide the skillet under the broiler and cook until the chees is melted, bubbly, and slightly browned, 3 or 4 minutes, then remove. Let cool slightly, but eat it hot.

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