Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rowdy Baking Blues: Spinach-Rice Casserole

Last week was kinda crazy. I applied to Mizzou's Educational Technology Master's program, attended the Association for General and Liberal Studies annual conference in St. Louis, taught my part-time interdisciplinary community college class and prepared for our Habitat for Humanity service learning project for this upcoming Saturday, and managed to go to a winery to celebrate my good buddy Nicole's 30th on Sunday.

This week is no different. Work is awesome but busy with another conference (this one virtual), planning for new and improved resources, and keeping up with a burgeoning inbox, grading journals and projects before midterm, and eating delicious Spinach-Rice Casserole, which has fueled my long, long days for the past week. Cheesy, ricey goodness with plenty of greens, garlic, and onions. Yum.

Before you knock the humble casserole, consider its origins. While it's believed the English legitimized the word "casserole" by defining it in 1708, the casserole has been with us since prehistoric times. I believe casseroles will be with us many more years to come since it's a dinnertime staple and liberator of home-cooks, often women, everywhere. And, to be honest, I think the modern version of the casserole is far more appealing than mud-encrusted Beggar's Chicken of China. Then again, I've never tasted mud-encrusted anything, so maybe I'm missing the point.

Yet, I think the casserole does what Charles Baudelaire mentioned in 1863 in The Painter of Modern Life: "Modernity...to extract from fashion the poetry that resides in its historical envelope, to distill the eternal from the transitory..." Lyrical words for a dish that often gets ridiculed by foodies and chefs, but I still hold steady that there's something lovely about baking a meal in one dish, often from left-overs, without sacrificing taste or lots of time. And in our economic times, I'm sure casseroles are as popular as ever.

What I'm proposing is a return to savory, rustic cooking. Food that showcases the ingredients and ingenuity of the maker just as much as the presentation. And while I've sometimes been made fun of for learning how to cook, at my last job I was chastised for baking cookies since it was assumed that such an action was decidedly un-feminist and unprofessional, I continue to bake because there's something incredibly fun to see disparate ingredients transformed into a tastier whole.

So, to working professionals, men and women alike, vegetarians, and people who love a "hot dish" redolent of garlic, spinach, and cheddar, this dish is for you.

Spinach-Rice Casserole
Adapted from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook

4 cups cooked rice (brown or white, you make the call)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups minced onions
10-16 oz. fresh spinach, washed
2 tsp. salt
1 head of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (I recommend freshly grated nutmeg)
1/2 tsp. cayenne
black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard made with white wine
2 beaten large eggs
1 cup lowfat milk
2 cups grated cheddar
1-2 tsp. paprika
1-2 tbsp. olive oil

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 9x13-inch baking pan with 1-2 tbsps. olive oil.
2) Heat the butter in a deep skillet. Add onion and saute 5-8 minutes ~ until soft. Add spinach, salt, and garlic, and cook about 5-7 minutes more over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add this mixture to the rice, along with the seasonings and mustard. Mix well.
3) Beat together eggs and milk, and stir this into the spinach-rice mixture, along with the grated cheddar.
4) Spread into the prepared pan and dust with paprika. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes ~ until heated through and lightly browned on top.


Hugs and high fives,


Elie said...

I WILL try to make this soon. Doesn't look too challenging...!

Anonymous said...

okay, there is NOTHING wrong with casserole! especially as weeks get colder & busier.

plus, they freeze well and share well. I am going to try this one, Ms. Kella! maybe I'll be bad & throw in some sausage :)

PS-love the step-by-step photos

Abba said...

This sounds great, Kella! Thanks for sharing. I own "Sundays at Moosewood" but have never tried any of the recipes because the cookbook itself is very large and daunting...

Kella said...

Thanks, Elie, Nishta, and Amber!
Sorry I'm just now responding. The past few weeks have been a bit hard, but I'm pulling through. I'll update this blog later tonight with some new pics and recipes. Thanks for your patience and understanding.


Anonymous said...

Kella, I SO love your blog! I am going to give this and several other recipes a shot soon. I rarely meander into the kitchen to do anything but scrounge around for things Paul has already made for us, but I am feeling inspired lately. Maybe it's the coming winter--the need to hibernate or at least get cozy in the house. And food, of course, always plays a role in a cozy home. Thanks for the inspiration!

~Susan C.

Kella said...

Thanks, Susan. You're too sweet. I love cooking when its late fall or winter. I think in the spring and summer months I rather go outside and play, too. In any case, I'm so happy you're inspired. You're super creative and amazing too, so keep up the amazing living and thriving.

Hugs and high fives,