So once upon a time, Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman was just another blogger / food blogger. But back in 2008 I guess it was, maybe 2007, I was part of a food-blog panel at the annual BlogHer conference. During the Q&A, Ree stood to ask a question and the entire room audibly gasped – gasped! – realizing that Pioneer Woman was in the room. A year or two later, we were back at BlogHer and in the hotel lobby, I introduced myself: Ree was kind to say with a grin, "Of course I remember you, Alanna ..." Now of course, Ree Drummond is a genuine celebrity and The Pioneer Woman has spun off three cookbooks, a show on the Food Network, maybe an upcoming movie too? and legions of fans. Fame and fortune are great but some times I wonder, really, if Ree likes her life better now than before or if it's just a wave she rides, like the rest of us if on another scale, gathering resources to put kids and grandkids through school.
Ree's latest cookbook is my favorite of three so far, Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. It's organized by holiday, New Years, Valentines, etc. and feels personal, intimate and imperceptibly but charmingly imperfect, the way all our holiday gatherings are fraught with things-gone-wrong. I've bookmarked a dozen recipes but given the season, started with Thanksgiving. We plan to try her brine for a Thanksgiving turkey (doesn't every family cook four turkeys? yikes) but it was the wild rice and broccoli casserole which grabbed me first.
Mind you, it is a production: cooking the rice, cooking the broccoli, cooking the sauce. There's nothing hard here, it's just time-consuming.
But the results? Gorgeous! I can even imagine skipping the broccoli entirely to instead turn out a chicken casserole or wait, why not broccoli and chicken both? Yes, that's it! The Mushroom Cream Sauce is like the best homemade mushroom soup mix you can imagine, with such good texture from the onions, mushrooms, broccoli stalks, carrots and celery.
RECIPE for PIONEER WOMAN's BROCCOLI WILD RICE CASSEROLE
Time to table: 2 hours but can be made ahead of time
Makes about 8 cups, enough for 16 with a big meal like Thanksgiving, otherwise enough for 8
2-1/2 cups chicken stock
Salt if using homemade chicken stock
1 cup wild rice
Large pot of well-salted water
1-1/2 pounds fresh broccoli, florets only (save the stalks)
Large bowl of ice water, large enough to hold a colander
MUSHROOM CREAM SAUCE
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped fine
Broccoli stalks, peeled and chopped fine
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, washed well, trimmed, caps broken into pieces by hand, stems chopped fine
A little salt
1 carrot, peeled and chopped fine
1 rib celery, chopped fine
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Reserved rice cooking water plus enough chicken stock to measure 1-1/2 cups
1/2 cup heavy cream
Generous salt & pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup panko
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt & generous pepper
COOK THE WILD RICE Bring stock (and salt, if using) to a boil, add the rice, cover and let cook until soft and plump, about 30 - 45 minutes. Drain, saving the cooking liquid.
BLANCH THE BROCCOLI Bring salted water to a boil. Trim the broccoli, slicing off rough ends. Cut off the "green" parts of the broccoli, cut into small florets. When the water boils, drop florets into the pot and let cook for 2 minutes. Working quickly, drain through a colander, leaving florets in the colander. Right away, immerse the colander into the ice water, submerging the florets, let rest for a few seconds until broccoli is cold, then lift out the colander and let the florets drain thoroughly.
COOK THE MUSHROOM CREAM SAUCE Prep the onion, broccoli stalks and mushrooms. In a large skillet, melt butter on medium heat until shimmery. Add the onion, broccoli stalks and mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and stir to coat with fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are soft. Add the carrot and celery, cook just until soft. Stir in thyme and flour and let cook for a minute or two, enough to cook off the floury taste. Stir in the rice's cooking water/chicken stock and stir well. Taste and adjust seasoning, then bring to a boil, stirring often, let cook for about 10 minutes. Stir in cream and return to a boil, let cook for about 5 minutes until thick and creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning.
BROWN BREAD-CRUMB TOPPING In a small skillet, melt butter on medium heat. Add panko, thyme, salt and pepper and let turn golden brown, stirring often. Watch carefully, near the end, the panko will turn from pale to dark brown (that's too much) in a flash.
ASSEMBLE & BAKE In a two-quart oven-safe dish, layer half the rice, half the broccoli, about 1/3 of the Mushroom Cream Sauce, then repeat with the remaining rice, broccoli and Cream Sauce. Sprinkle top with Bread Crumb Topping. Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes or until bubbly in the center. Serve immediately.
TO MAKE & SERVE SAME DAY Assemble casserole but do not sprinkle with Bread Crumb Topping. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature for an hour, top the Topping and then bake for 45-60 minutes until bubbly in the center.
TO MAKE ONE DAY & SERVE ANOTHER A day or two before serving, cook the rice, blanch the broccoli, cook the Mushroom Cream Sauce and brown the Bread Crumb Topping. Refrigerate separately. An hour before going into the oven, bring ingredients to room temperature. Assemble the casserole, cover and bake for 45 - 60 minutes until bubbly in the center.
ALANNA's TIPS & KITCHEN NOTES
NO WILD RICE? Wild rice is expensive and not always easy to find. But I have the idea that this casserole would work equally well with other starches, quinoa, barley, even brown rice. Or go crazy with farro, kamut and other interesting grains! You'll want 3-1/4 cups cooked.
WILD RICE TIMING "Real" wild rice takes less time to cook than the more-easily found cultivated wild rice. There's more information here, About Wild Rice.
SAUCE The Mushroom Cream Sauce is just wonderful – I love the texture the extra vegetables add!
SERVING TIME Try to serve the casserole as soon as it's hot because it doesn't hold well appearance-wise: the broccoli goes from bright green and slightly crisp to dull green and mostly mush. The good news? It still tastes great.
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