Wild Rice – Photo by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Flick (Creative Commons License)
One of my Christmas presents this year was The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman, author the blog of the same name . I was pretty excited to get this book even before I had a chance to take an in-depth look at it; I have already made several recipes from the blog, and I have found them to be both delicious and well-tested. Nothing I have made from Smitten Kitchen has failed or been even vaguely disappointing. (Tip: Try the pumpkin muffins)
I’m happy to report that this recipe was no exception! I’m afraid to say that I have misplaced my iPod, which is my only camera (don’t panic! I think I just left it at work!). So this post won’t have any pictures of the cheesy goodness. But this recipe was fabulous! For those of you who don’t already have the cookbook (and you should! Valentine’s Day gift? February splurge?), the gratin is pretty simple. You prepare cooked wild rice, steamed kale, and caramelized onions, and mix them altogether with swiss cheese, add more cheese on top, add breadcrumbs, and bake.
Now, I am sure that would be wonderful just like that. But I am constitutionally unable to make dinner recipes without modifying them – baking recipes, I can follow to the letter, but when cooking dinner I always have the urge to change things a little, often so that I can use up stuff in my cupboards. On that note, I cut down on the amount of wild rice, and cooked up some basmati rice to supplement it. This was for reasons of economy (wild rice is expensive, even though I do live near one of the largest historical centers of wild rice harvesting), and because I thought that a little basmati would make for a nice hearty texture. I also added some frozen chopped carrots, for a little color, and added a teaspoon of a herb blend in my cupboard called Tuscan Salt, from Les Soeurs en Vrac in Montreal. The whole thing looked a little dry when I put it into the casserole, so I slurped in some milk around the edges of the baking dish; I won’t deny that I was also hoping to get a bit of creaminess, slightly evocative of canned mushroom soup. Finally, I added a few crushed Ritz cracker crumbs on top, just because I could – I always read recipes for casseroles that have Ritz crumbs on them, but we hardly ever have Ritz crackers in the house. Right now, we do, as the result of overbuying for a Christmas party.
My husband saw the casserole before I put it in the oven and he said “It’s a . . . HOTDISH!” (the jury’s still out, though, on whether this is the correct Wisconsin term . I added to the feeling of Midwester midwinter cosiness by serving the casserole with some braised red cabbage that I had made earlier and frozen (a note on the linked recipe: do not use balsamic vinegar as called for: use red wine vinegar, or cider vinegar or even white vinegar). I then reheated the frozen cooked red cabbage with a splash of gin, reasoning that my dad often throws in a few juniper berries when making red cabbage and/or roat pork. The mixture of casserole and red cabbage was a winner, and we’ll definitely be eating this again.
The casserole has a great texture, with some chewiness from the wild rice and softness from the onions. The flavor is slightly reminiscent of stuffing. But the real genius of this recipe is the decision to use Swiss cheese instead of a more strongly flavored cheese. It means that a mild cheesy flavor permeates the whole dish, without overpowering it. It doesn’t hurt that we can get very good Swiss Cheese, living, as we do, near the Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA. As an added advantage, this recipe makes perfect use of local foods available in winter, without being a variation on “same old, same old” dishes. I’m now inspired to mix everything with Swiss cheese and wild rice, and call it dinner!
Bonus for lovers of textiles, printing, quilting, design, competitions, or any combination thereof
My friend Kate Austin is one of ten finalists in the Repeat(ed) fabric design competition on the Printed Bolt. I’m so excited for her! Check it out!