September Cooking Project, Take One – Mushroom, Brown Rice, And Ricotta Casserole

by moderndomestic on September 9, 2009

Brown Rice Casserole

It's not pretty, but it tasted good.

This week, it finally feels like fall. Kids are back in school, the highs are in the low 70s, and I can finally wear pants and not melt into a puddle. I can also turn on my oven for the first time in quite awhile without feeling like I’m going to burn my apartment to a crisp.

It’s a good time for this month’s cooking project – casseroles, which my friend Rebecca requested back in May. Casseroles are also a classic American comfort food and, given that we’re still in the midst of an economic crisis (or, even worse, a jobless recovery), I think that comfort food will still be very much in vogue this fall.

I was a little wary of this casserole project. Casseroles are tricky because if I make one, it has to be good enough to take for lunch for the rest of the week. And since I’ll be eating it every day, it can’t be the cheese and bacon-filled extravaganza that I’d usually make if I were making it for a dinner party. Just doing some preliminary research freaked me out, because all the recipes I found either called for using condensed soup or a heavy cream sauce to bind the rest of the ingredients together. My waistline (and tastebuds) did not approve.

I finally decided that if I expanded my search to savory pies I might find possible flavor combinations – and luckily I hit upon this recipe for mushroom and farro pie. I ditched the pie crust and used the filling as the basis for my casserole.

The recipe, which mixes mushrooms, scallions, garlic, farro with ricotta cheese as a binder, sounded promising. I switched out the farro, which I couldn’t find at the Giant, for brown rice, which was much more economical. I decided to up the health quotient of the casserole and added some cooked spinach, although the bitter flavor was distracting and ended up being a mistake. I also added some Pecorino Romano cheese to the ricotta, to punch up the flavor.

The final result was pretty good – not perfect, but a fine first attempt at a healthful casserole. The mushrooms, garlic, and scallions were a wonderful combination – and they married well with the earthy, chewy brown rice. As I mentioned above, the spinach was not a good idea, but the Pecorino cheese added a salty, savory note to the dish. And using ricotta cheese as a binder was perfect – it was creamy, without being too soupy and fat-laden.

Were I to make it again, I may add more onions or more Pecorino, since it lacked a little flavor. Chopped basil would be a nice addition, as would a spoonful or two of olive tapenade, mixed in with the ricotta. But even if it was an imperfect casserole, I’m still very happy this casserole is in my lunch today.

A fine start to this month’s cooking project.

Brown Rice Casserole 2

I think next time I should add a crispy topping as well . . .

Recipe: Mushroom, Brown Rice, and Ricotta Casserole
Adapted From Epicurious

Ingredients
1 cup brown (uncooked)
1/2 tsp olive oil, plus more for sautéing vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb spinach
1 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, washed and chopped,
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

In a heavy bottomed saucepan over high heat, bring water to a boil. Add the olive oil, a pinch of salt and brown rice. Reduce heat to low and cook for 40 minutes. When done, transfer to a large bowl.

Cook spinach in a little olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan and let cool. Squeeze excess liquid out of the spinach, and then finely chop. Add to the brown rice.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute the mushrooms until just soft (5 minutes). Add the garlic and half the scallions, and saute until the garlic and scallions soften (another 5 minutes). Remove from heat and add to the brown rice mixture. Let cool slightly.

In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta and Pecorino cheese. Add the ricotta mixture and the rest of the scallions to the brown rice mixture, mixing everything together until combined.

Transfer filling to a casserole dish. Bake, lightly covered with tinfoil, for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 10 minutes, to crisp the top. Remove from oven and serve warm. A small side salad and fresh french bread would be nice accompaniments.

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Casserole Project, Take Two: Polenta Casserole With Spinach, Sausage, and Tomato Sauce (Dairy Free!) « ModernDomestic
September 17, 2009 at 6:34 am

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Alice September 9, 2009 at 9:38 am

What’s farro?

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moderndomestic September 9, 2009 at 9:56 am

It’s a type of grain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmer

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TinaH September 9, 2009 at 9:58 am

Neat! Thank you. I grew up on Midwestern casseroles and am glad to hear ideas on how to unfatten them.

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Joanne September 9, 2009 at 12:41 pm

I’m so excited for your September challenge, I just bought a little casserole cookbook. Thanks for the great idea Rebecca. But Modern Domestic, do you plan on doing any dairy-free ones? I’m on a dairy-free diet now, because my Munchkin is dairy sensitive :o( and I’m having a hard time finding ones that don’t require cream or cheese. I don’t want to splurge on soy cheese either. Any suggestions?

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moderndomestic September 10, 2009 at 9:27 am

I’ll try to make one this weekend! It’s a good challenge.

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Brooke September 9, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Fabulous challenge! I love casseroles and have been trying to brainstorm some healthier ways to put them together as well – thanks for the great ideas. Maybe I can finally adapt my chicken divon because I LOVE that stuff and would dig it even more without the guilt 😉

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moderndomestic September 10, 2009 at 9:23 am

Glad you like it!

Okay, what exactly is chicken divon? Because I know it’s some “classic” dish, yet to my knowledge I’ve never had it!

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Rebecca September 9, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I am so glad you are doing this project. Casseroles really are a fav of mine. Comforting, and I love the one dish feature. (of course we all know it takes way more than one dish to make the darn thing but you know) I don’t have any good ideas for Joanne’s request of a dairy free casserole off the top of my head, but I wonder if a Jewish cookbook might have one since a casserole with a meat meal would need to be dairy free.

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moderndomestic September 10, 2009 at 9:27 am

I’m currently reading Joan Nathan’s book “Jewish Cooking in America,” so I can see if there are dairy-free things in there (it’s a GREAT book, by the way). That’s a good idea – thanks for the tip.

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katy September 9, 2009 at 8:39 pm

this looks fabulous! I love casseroles.

re: dairy-free casseroles: I have a “cabbage roll” casserole recipe in my blog (cabbage tag). It’s a child of the 1950s, so contains a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, but you could likely sub canned crushed tomatoes and a bit of sugar.

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moderndomestic September 10, 2009 at 9:23 am

Oooh, nice tip – thanks! I will check it out. I bet you could also use homemade tomato sauce (which is super easy to do).

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Phil September 10, 2009 at 3:06 pm

I think it’s an unwritten rule that a casserole must taste much better than it looks. Also, crispy topping is always a plus in my book! There was an episode of Good Eats where Alton made a green bean casserole from scratch. Not sure if you’re a fan of the show and it’s not the healthiest recipe, but it may give you some ideas for adapting other condensed soup casseroles.
Here is the recipe: http://tinyurl.com/5brybf
And the video: http://tinyurl.com/okybp6

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mary September 13, 2009 at 10:26 am

This sounds delicious. I have some farro in my cabinet that I’ve been planning on using for months now – perhaps some variation on your dish?

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moderndomestic September 13, 2009 at 8:29 pm

You could totally do a farro-risotto type thing. Like, cook the farro and when it’s done stir in the sauteed mushrooms, scallions (shallots would be nice too), garlic, as well as the cheeses. I think that would be an excellent vegetarian dinner – and would require way less stirring than risotto. Let me know what you end up doing!

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Denise May 3, 2010 at 11:14 am

This was outstanding. My husband doesn’t typically like farro until he ate this. The ricotta makes it so creamy and I used a mix of dried wild mushrooms that gave it another interesting flavor sensation. This is company-worthy and most definitely a “keeper.”

Glad I found your blog, and thanks for sharing.

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