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There's no denying that few combinations are better than rice, butter and cheese, with or without other ingredients
For breaking the Yom Kippur fast, my family always opted for a milchig meal. As cheese lovers, we found a dairy dish was the perfect choice, whether it was macaroni and cheese or a quiche-like cheese and onion pie.
Since Yom Kippur comes fairly early this year and the weather is still pretty hot, I knew that I would prefer an easier, cooler alternative that does require boiling a big pot of water for pasta or rolling out dough and baking a quiche.
To find an appealing dish, I started by opening a book that I bought more than 25 years ago, when I lived in France, called Pates et Riz (pasta and rice) written by Elmo Coppi, the chef of an Italian restaurant in Paris. I considered making the delicious rice with pumpkin and Parmesan, with its background flavors of butter-sauteed onion, carrot and celery. I also debated whether to prepare the Piedmont specialty he presented, rice with fontina, a simple dish of rice grains browned in butter, then cooked in broth and enriched with more butter and plenty of finely diced fontina, a fairly soft yellow cheese that melts easily. I was also enticed by Coppi's Venetian rice with sauteed fennel, and his Ligurian country rice cooked with sauteed onions, dried mushrooms, artichoke slices and fresh peas, both of which are finished with Parmesan.
But Italian creations were not my only sources of inspiration for savory rice dishes to serve after Yom Kippur. After all, cheesy rice concoctions are popular from the Mediterranean to Mexico, where mouth-watering, vegetable-studded rice pilaf often comes with a sprinkling of mild grated cheese.
Bulgarians, who learned to use rice from the Ottomans, make a casserole of rice layered with a mixture of cooked spinach, eggs and grated kashkaval, wrote Lesley Chamberlain, author of The Food and Cooking of Eastern Europe. They call it musaka because it's baked in layers, but I consider it a variation of rice kugel.
Barbara Kamir and Amelie Lahontaa, the authors of La Cuisine Familiale Francaise (French family cooking), make Basque-style rice cooked with sauteed onions, thyme and bay leaves, then finished with grated Gruyere cheese and served with a peppery tomato sauce. The late Raymond Oliver, author of La Cuisine and then chef-owner of a restaurant in Paris I loved, Le Grand Vefour, recommended combining rice with butter-cooked mushrooms, grated Gruyere and more fresh butter.
There's no denying that few combinations are better than rice, butter and cheese, with or without other ingredients. The post-Yom Kippur supper provides a perfect occasion to sample such luscious dishes.
Unlike classic risotto, these entrees do not demand standing over the stove and constantly stirring the rice until it is al dente, then serving it immediately. In fact, pilaf-type dishes and those based on boiled rice reheat beautifully.
After all my research, I chose an easy-to-prepare entree inspired by a Roquefort and onion quiche that I enjoyed at Androuet, a famous Parisian restaurant specializing in cheese. You can use the recipe as a starting point for your own favorite flavors. Use any cheese you like, from feta to kashkaval to Edam to cubes of creamy goat cheese. You might like to add fresh herbs, like dill or basil, or cooked vegetables such as diced grilled eggplants, roasted peppers or sauteed mushrooms. Toss them with the cooked rice a day ahead and keep the casserole in the refrigerator, ready to be heated quickly as soon as Yom Kippur ends.
BROWN RICE WITH ROQUEFORT AND ONIONS
Instead of baking the rice, you can simmer it on top of the stove in a covered shallow pan. The quantities and cooking time will be the same.
If you prefer to make this casserole with white rice, bake it for 18 minutes, then taste to see if it is done.
5 parsley stems
1 fresh thyme sprig or 1â„4 tsp. dried, crumbled
1 bay leaf
2 cups hot vegetable broth
3 or 4 Tbsp. butter, vegetable oil or olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup long-grain brown rice
1â„4 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper
1â„3 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese, or more to taste
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional)
Preheat oven to 175Âº. Combine parsley, thyme and bay leaf on piece of cheesecloth, fold to enclose and tie tightly. Prepare a round of parchment paper of diameter of pan to be used for cooking rice (20 to 23 cm.) and butter paper. Heat broth to a simmer. Cover and keep warm.
Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons butter or oil in an ovenproof saute pan or deep skillet over low heat. Add onions and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, 5 minutes. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, 10 minutes or until very tender. Remove onions to a bowl.
Add remaining tablespoon butter or oil to pan and heat it. Add rice and saute over medium heat, stirring, about 3 minutes.
Pour hot broth over rice and stir once. Add cheesecloth bag and submerge it in liquid. Add salt and pepper. Bring mixture to boil. Press round of buttered paper, buttered side down, onto rice, and cover with tight lid. Bake, without stirring, for 35 minutes. Taste rice; if it is too chewy or if liquid is not absorbed, bake 2 more minutes. Discard cheesecloth bag. Scatter sauteed onions and Roquefort over rice and cover.
Cover rice with its buttered paper and lid, let stand about 10 minutes and then fluff with fork.
Continue tossing with fork until onions and Roquefort are thoroughly mixed into rice. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer rice to serving dish. Serve sprinkled with parsley.
Makes 4 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and Fresh from France: Vegetable Creations.