Cheesy Broccoli Rice from Scratch

broccoli rice casserole
This was undoubtedly a comfort food for many of you growing up, as it was for me.  Creamy and cheesy with just a hint of something green, but mostly rice and cheese.  So all in all, the perfect vegetable dish. 😉 My mom made it a lot and sometimes I crave it but I’ve never made it myself.

A lot of recipes you see online call for cans of stuff, velveeta and things that just don’t seem like…food.  Now, I’m not saying that the from-scratch version is any better for you, BUT it has all real ingredients and gives you a good feeling and that’s what makes the indulgence worth it.  I decided one day I would make this dish and since I don’t keep any cream-of-whatever on hand, I made a simple bechemel (white gravy base) and added in lots of extra sharp cheddar.  Each ingredient cooked separately in chicken stock to give lots of added flavor and the results were fabulous!

We still have lots of snow on the ground and the roads are hard to travel, so warm, cheesy dishes are the perfect meal to stay inside and enjoy.  Be warm and well fed! 🙂

Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole

 

Cheesy Broccoli Rice

  • 1 head broccoli, chopped small
  • 2 cups chicken broth (although vegetable broth would enable the entire
  • dish to be vegetarian)
  • 1 cup white rice
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 TBS unsalted butter
  • 4 TBS flour
  • 1 cup whole milk (plus more to adjust consistency)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • breadcrumbs and extra cheese for topping (I used crushed Ritz crackers)

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large, deep skillet, bring the broth to a boil and throw in the broccoli.  Steam it with a lid covering until the broccoli is starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon and set aside in a large bowl.  Add the rice to the broth and cook until tender (about 15-20 minutes).  Dump rice into the bowl with the broccoli (it’s okay if there’s a little extra liquid).

Wipe the skillet clean and melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour until it’s all coated and bubbling, but not turning brown.  Whisk in the milk and let it come back up to a boil, adding more splashes of milk to maintain a gravy-like consistency.  I’m sorry I don’t have exact amounts, but it’s really an add enough until it looks right kinda thing.  Stir in the cheddar and whisk until melted.  Add more milk if it seems too thick.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper until it tastes right and then stir in the broccoli and rice.  Top with breadcrumbs and extra cheese and melt in the oven until bubbling.

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Cheesy Cauliflower and Rice Bake

Cheesy Cauliflower & Rice Bake
I always look for interesting sides to put with lunch and dinner every day.  It has been a challenge for me as the typical American cook to think of vegetables as a main component to meals.  For most of us, vegetables are exactly as we call them – a side dish (a side thought!) and we obligingly scrounge a bag of vegetables from the freezer to make our meals “complete” when we very rarely enjoy those components and most of them, if we are honest, get put in a leftover container and saved until we no longer have guilt about throwing them away.

Maybe this is just me.  I’ve wanted and tried this year to think of vegetables as the main component and meats and carbs as a side dish.  To balance the plate in the opposite direction.  This. Is. Hard.  I will be the first to admit that I know how to cook meats, starches and carbs MUCH better than I know how to cook a vegetable.  But I’m trying!  And I’ve looked to cuisines that tend to focus on vegetables as main dishes for inspiration.  Indian cuisine is wonderful for this approach, but even I tire of the cumin/cardamom/curry combination of flavors pretty quick.  There needs to be a balance to the approach of getting more vegetables on your dinner plate, and so for me, I’m taking winter as a wonderful excuse to make some slightly more indulgent and comforting vegetable dishes to get me in the habit of seeing them as the star of the show, instead of a side act.

Speaking of winter: I am in love with a new cookbook.  Well, I suppose it isn’t exactly new, but it’s new to me, and it’s called Homemade Winter by Yvette Van Boven.  I absolutely love when a cookbook has recipes listed by seasonal availability.  This cookbook is ALL about winter – sure, winter in Holland, but STILL!  Most winter vegetables in this hemisphere are available and relatively fresh no matter where you reside, and so this cookbook has introduced me to a season of cooking that has previously been nothing but soups and stews and squash.  Goodness, how many times can I eat squash?!

Enter: cauliflower and rice baked with swiss into a creamy but not-too-heavy dish.  I made this yesterday for our lunch and it was the main component.  In her cookbook, Yvette calls it a risotto, but I didn’t have arborio rice and so I made it with what I had – plain ol’ white, short-grain rice – and it worked beautifully.  I love a recipe that is accessible and works, no matter what you have on hand.  A lot of home cooks don’t have arborio in the pantry, yet most people have regular white rice!  The only splurge for this dish was some good Comte cheese, but I believe it could be just as flavorful with nearly any cheese you have in the fridge.

We loved it – it was warm, filling and satisfying as a main dish and perfect for a freezing day like today.  In fact, I turned the leftovers into cauliflower rice fritters today for lunch and served them along side a white bean soup I will blog about very soon, and it was an awesome lunch!  Hope you all stay warm, today and have an extra cup of coffee with me!

Cauliflower & Rice Bake

Cheesy Cauliflower Rice Bake
serves 6-8 as a side or 4-6 as a main

1 small head cauliflower
1 TBS olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup shredded cheese such as Comte, Emmentaler or Gruyere – would work with any hard cheese, though
1 cup of white, short-grain rice
2 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup panko or plain bread crumbs
drizzle of olive oil

Boil the cauliflower for 10 minutes until tender.  Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat the oil in a large skillet (12″ at least). Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute more, then add the rice and stir to combine.  Saute all this for another 2 minutes or so.  Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Stir in the cauliflower and cheese and cover the skillet with a lid and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until all liquid has absorbed.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before uncovering.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs and drizzle the top with olive oil and bake until the breadcrumbs are toasted, or just stick it under the broiler for 5 minutes.

Serve in bowls with lots of cracked pepper!

Creamy Rice with Peas and Asparagus

pea asparagus rice

There is a beautiful quarterly cookbook/magazine called Canal House cooking.  It is founded by two friends who meet together every day to talk about what they had for dinner the night before, and then they get cooking.  They decided to start writing down their recipes and what resulted was this beautiful magazine book.  I like to try recipes out that are in season, and so I am currently going through their Spring issue.  And even though there aren’t a  lot of fresh peas in our produce bins, I know that they are currently in season somewhere out there in lands where it rains, so I felt this was still an appropriate recipe for an overcast May day.  Asparagus is also in season, so I added some chopped up that I had roasted a few nights before and it was a really excellent addition.  Canal House calls this dish Risi E Bisi  (rice and peas) and it’s just that simple.

This is an excellent dish for little ones.  The comfort of soft rice and cheese and the addition of greens and a dab of butter makes this dish all-inclusive. For smaller, toothless ones, this would be so simple to pulse a few times with an immersion blender!  Olive still doesn’t like asparagus, but I think I’ve only given it to her 5 times.  I’m going to try at least 15 more times before I determine that she does not, in fact, love asparagus.  I challenge any  mom out there to do the same!  Case in point: I had nearly determined that Olive didn’t like peas until I hadn’t given them to her for a week or so, and then tried again and she gobbled them up.  I realized that familiarity equals good for a child.  So if you make a wide variety of vegetables simply familiar to a child, the enthusiasm will soon follow.  I believe this with all my heart, even on days where Olive spits out anything green.  One day she won’t, and I’ll be glad I didn’t let her under-developed, under-exposed palate determine her food preferences!

green rice

Creamy Rice with Peas and Asparagus
serves 6

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
4 tbs butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cups fresh peas (you could also use frozen, as I did and it turned out great)
salt
6 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups arborio rice, or other short grain rice.  I didn’t have any on hand, so I used plain long grain white and it was just fine.
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
pepper to taste
1 bunch asparagus, roasted at 400 with olive oil, salt and pepper until tender

Heat the olive oil and 2 tbs of the butter together in a heavy medium pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook until soft and golden, 5-10 minutes.  Add the peas and season with salt.  Cook for a minute or two, then add 1 cup of the hot stock.

Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the peas until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice and 4 cups of the remaining hot stock. Cover the pot and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil.  Cook the rice, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and moisten the rice and peas (if needed and too thick) with the remaining cup of stock (I didn’t do this step – my rice didn’t absorb as much as arborio would have) Stir in the remaining 2 tbs of butter and half of the cheese.  Fold in the chopped, roasted asparagus if you want.  Season with salt and pepper and serve sprinkled with remaining cheese.