I’ve been craving casserole lately. Both the comforting flavor and the guarantee of leftovers. But what I really wanted was a casserole that didn’t contain cheese or a can of cream of anything. Especially after the onslaught of Super Bowl recipes involving cheese layered with cheese layered with cheese. There is still a full bowl of artichoke dip sitting in my fridge with one small corner eaten, where Sorin and I each took a small dip. I need to throw it out, but I don’t even want to look at it.
Artichoke dip is not good. I know this is an Un-American sentiment, but next time you dip your chip into a thick bowl of it take careful note of the flavor. You might notice there isn’t actually any flavor. Only a texture that lies somewhere between glue and melted cheese, a texture that can only be achieved by melting together an obscene amount of dairy products (and possibly mayonnaise) that have no right being together in one bowl.
As I was searching for casserole recipes that didn’t involve copious amounts of cheese, I realized this was quite Un-American too. We love our melted cheese, don’t we? More often than not, I too fall into the pro-melted cheese demographic but this week, I just wasn’t in the mood.
So I read more casserole recipes than any person should over the course of an afternoon and we ended up with this really delicious, really comforting wild rice and whole wheat orzo casserole on our table. No cheese, no canned anything. Just veggies and whole grains. The creaminess comes from little chunks of eggplant, first fried lightly in olive oil then baked with carrot, red pepper and tomatoes.
I was a little worried about the wild rice/whole wheat orzo combination tasting a little too hearty, but it’s perfect. Earthy, nutty, toothsome. How often do you get to use that word?
Did you know that wild rice is a marsh grass that grows in water? I had no idea. I guess I had never really sat down and thought about wild rice before.
O, I admit, was not overly fond of this casserole and instead has been chowing down on a big batch of chicken schnitzel her father made earlier in the week. But Sorin and I have happily made a dinner and several lunches out of it. If I had some peppery arugula in the house, I think it would make the perfect salad on the side.
In other exciting news around here, I tried to make one of those calming glitter bottles and this is what happened:
Understandably, O is not impressed. I swear I followed the instructions exactly but my glitter settles in about 6.2 seconds, instead of 3 minutes. It is neither calming nor relaxing nor fun to watch glitter drop the bottom of a plastic water bottle in 6 seconds.
Crafting for me is probably like cooking for some of you. I follow the instructions exactly and yet, things never turn out quite right. I’ve re-read the instructions a dozen times on a dozen different websites but there doesn’t seem to be much room for error. Somehow, though, I managed to make the only glitter bottle on the internet that doesn’t work. Now I’m all stressed out about this stupid calming glitter bottle and keep trying to figure out what went wrong. Maybe I need to add more glitter glue? Suggestions welcome, all you crafting geniuses out there.
2 smallish eggplant (weighing a combined total of around 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. You don’t want the pieces much bigger than this or they won’t cook all the way.
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 teaspoons tomato paste
2 (medium) or 3 (small) tomatoes, chopped
1 cup uncooked whole wheat orzo
1/2 cup uncooked wild rice blend (I used Lundberg wild blend)
1 3/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
lemon zest grated from 1/2 a lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the wild rice and simmer over medium, maintaining a gentle boil. Cook until just tender, but you don’t need to cook it as long as the package suggests since you’ll be baking it too. I simmered my wild rice blend about 30 minutes. Drain the rice to remove any remaining water.
At the same time, sprinkle your eggplant chunks generously with salt and let them sit in a colander for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, rinse well and pat the eggplant dry on a towel.
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1/4 cup of olive oil. When you can smell the olive oil in the air and it starts to pop just a bit, add the eggplant. Don’t stir it for several minutes; you want to give the eggplant time to lightly brown. Fry the eggplant for a total of about 8 minutes, stirring only a few times. Remove the eggplant from the pan and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan plus the carrots, bell pepper and onion. Again, saute for about 8 minutes until the veggies are lightly browned. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Add the tomato paste and stir it well into the veggies for a minute or two. Then stir in the tomatoes, orzo, par-cooked rice, water, salt, lemon zest, oregano and eggplant.
Transfer to a casserole pan (I use an oval 3 quart dish). Cover with a lid or foil and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more.