I overlooked the recipe because baked rice dishes tend to be goopy, dairy-heavy glops (though now that I write it out like that, it sounds good) but my mom called and told me she’d tried Smitten Kitchen’s zucchini rice gratin, and how I needed to STOP WHAT I WAS DOING and AQUIRE ZUCCHINI. I trust my mom, but we have sometimes different food preferences, so I told her I totally would walk out of work right that very moment and get cooking. I didn’t, though. In fact, I didn’t for about two weeks.
I am glad I finally did, though my version of the gratin is now comparable to the original only in that it is rice layered with roasted vegetables.
It’s not a quick dish, even though it’s pretty easy. In my oven, the vegetables need to be roasted one pan at a time, and I’m up to three pans now. It leaves a lot of time for my other pursuits, such as watching my dog filthy up her freshly washed purple hoodie.
(Speaking of real problems, that’s a fort in our own backyard that we can’t use. The landlord offered to rent it to us for an additional fee, which we declined, and so it sits.)
You aren’t limited to zucchini and tomatoes, clearly. I had some leftover butternut squash that went in, and I think that fennel and carrots would be perfect too. I was also a little gun-shy — last time I made this recipe the zucchini I used was very, very wet and instead of roasting it turned into sauce. This time I didn’t want to push it too far, but it could have taken the push. Still delicious, but not as caramelly as roasted things get in your dreams.
One thing Smitten kitchen has you do is saute onions to add to the rice mixture – something that took me several cookings before realizing that you can just roast the onions in the oven with the rest of the veggies. Now my only two dirty cooking dishes are the rice cooker, a big bowl and a few utensils. Smarts! Achieving great laziness through great mental effort.
I don’t like topping anything with Parmesan since it just browns and gets hard, so I topped my latest gratin with Meadowkaas and it was diiih-viiihne. Meadowkaas is a spring gouda that some cheese shops say can only be found “three months of the year” but I keep seeing it around town here, so I keep buying it. It’s a soft, salty, creamy gouda and I am going to marry it.
The light failed me, and there were no good photos of the baked dish, but this aerial of the dinner table gives (the served gratin is in the lower right corner) an indication of how the rice-to-vegetable ratio is very even in my gratin. I like it that way. (The red slaw stuff is from Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook, which we will discuss soon.)
2 cups uncooked wild rice and long-grain rice pilaf mix
3 total pounds veggies (whatever ratio you want: a pound each zucchini, tomatoes and butternut, for example)
1 yellow onion
1 tsp fresh chopped thyme or sage
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded soft gouda
salt and pepper
- A few hours or a day ahead of time, cook the rice pilaf according to package directions (if you are using boxed pilaf mix and it does not come to 2 cups of uncooked rice, you can add plain long-grain rice to make up the difference) and set aside to cool. Refrigerate if waiting a day.
- Heat your oven to 450°. Meanwhile, line two (three if you have them) baking sheets with parchment, and brush/rub olive oil all over the parchment. Slice all the veggies including the onion pretty thick – at least 1/4 inch – and arrange them on the trays. Salt and pepper the veggies a little. Bake one sheet at a time for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through, with the exception of the tomatoes, which cannot be flipped. Keep your eye on them. Sometimes the first batch takes a lot longer. Move everything around as needed to get everyone in there browned. When one is finished, remove the veggies, put a fresh sheet of parchment on the tray and repeat the process. Turn off oven when finished.
- When they are cooled enough to handle, chop the onion up and put it in a large bowl. To the bowl add the cooked rice, two eggs, herbs, Parmesan cheese, a few glugs of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste.
- Grease a 9×13 casserole dish with olive oil and spread half of the rice mixture into it. Layer half the veggies in, and sprinkle half the gouda. Layer in the rest of the rice, arrange the veggies all pretty on top, then sprinkle with more gouda. At this point you can refrigerate the gratin to bake later, or bake immediately: set oven to 350° and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the edges of the rice just begin to take on a pleasant toasty shade and the middle is warmed through.