Cheesy Broccoli and Rice Casserole

A casserole — I know.  Casseroles get a bad rap.  Most of the casseroles I’ve encountered deserve it though.  Canned soups, canned vegetables, processed cheeses — no wonder I look back on the 70’s and shudder — it wasn’t only because my mom dressed me in plaid pants and subjected me bowl haircuts on the kitchen table (I’m not bitter).  Casseroles….they can damage you for a long time.

But this one is a winner, I promise.  I went out looking for a baked broccoli side dish that didn’t require canned cream of mushroom soup (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and here’s what I found for us.  It’s delish!  Make it sometime soon.  Your children need to grow up knowing that not all casseroles are evil.

SERVES:  6-8 as a side dish
SOURCE:  The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2010, by the Editors of Cooks Illustrated

2 slices good quality sandwich bread, torn into pieces
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese (Parmesan cuts are on sale if you’d like to grate it yourself)
4 T. butter, melted plus an additional 2 T. chilled (Two brands: Organic Valley and Shurfresh)
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 large bunch ( 2lbs.) fresh broccoli, cut into florets and stalks trimmed and chopped (Broccoli Crowns)
1 onion, minced (1 c.) (Yellow Onions)
1 1/4 c. long grain white rice (Riceland Brand)
4 c. chicken broth (Swanson Brand)
1 1/4 c. half and half (Two brands:  Golden Guernsey and Organic Valley)
1 t. salt
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar, grated (2 c.) (Sendik’s 5 Year Cheddar)
1/8 t. cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400.  Grease a 9 x 13″ baking dish and set aside.

In a food processor, pulse the bread, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, the melted butter, and garlic until coarsely ground.

Place broccoli florets in a microwaveable bowl and cover tightly.  Cook 3 minutes or until tender and bright green.  Do not over cook.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large Dutch oven and saute onion and broccoli stalks; cook 8-10 minutes or until softened.  Add rice and cook, stirring constantly until rice is translucent.  Add chicken broth, half and half, and salt; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and cook, stirring often until rice is tender.  Remove from heat and stir in shredded cheddar, cayenne, remaining Parmesan, and broccoli florets.

Pour into prepared dish and top with breadcrumb mixture.  Bake 15 minutes or until sauce is bubbly around the edges and top is golden brown.  Cool 5 minutes before serving.

NOTE:  When I’m getting to the end of a loaf of bread, I toss the heels into a bag in the freezer.  Every now and then I get them out and make a big batch of these breadcrumbs, just to have on hand.  I store the crumbs in a big bag in the freezer.  They’re great for topping homemade macaroni and cheese, chicken and rice, or other baked pasta dishes.   :-)

Featured, Fresh, Frugal, Fabulous | November 16th, 2011