March 20, 2011
I recently made a couple side dishes to go with a pork dish I was making. The side dishes - wild rice and baked squash - each turned out quite good, and Juli and I both noticed that it was particularly tasty to take a bite of squash along with a bit of the wild rice. That got me thinking about some possibilities for a casserole combining those two ingredients, and last weekend I made my first attempt at that. The result was quite tasty, but it didn't really blend together the way a good casserole should. What I made was promising, but I still have some work to do on this one.
I assembled this first try at the casserole by layering different ingredients in a casserole dish. First came a layer of wild rice that I'd cooked in chicken broth. Then came a layer of sauteed onions, carrots and mushrooms, and next a layer of diced butternut squash that I'd partially cooked in the microwave. Next came a layer of apples cooked in apple brandy and a bit of cream. I topped all that with a layer of crushed cornflakes, drizzled on some melted butter and honey and cinnamon. Then the whole thing went into the oven to cook for a time.
The individual components of the recipe each turned out fine and tasted great. The problem was, by layering them rather than blending some of them, each individual component stood out on its own, rather than tasting like part of a whole. It was quite tasty and not bad at all, but it didn't quite come together as a casserole. Plus, the lower layers - particularly the wild rice - were a bit too dry.
I'm going to revisit this idea at some point, but given that spring is coming around, that will probably have to wait for next year. I already know a few things I'll do differently. I rather liked the distinct apple layer and the sweet, crunchy topping, but next time I'll probably mix the wild rice, the squash and the other vegetables together before topping them with the apples and the crumbs. I'll also include some roasted pecans next time (something I had planned to do this time, but forgot). I'm not sure if I'll mix them in with the rice and veggies, or with the apples, or maybe some of both, to help unify the dish. Finally, next time I make this one, I'm going to add some sort of liquid to the rest of the dish, not just the apples, to moisten things up.
Apple, Squash and Wild Rice Casserole
yield = 8 servings
2 cups wild rice
4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 butternut squash, seeds and strings removed,
peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 carrots, peeled and minced
8 ounces button mushrooms, thinly-sliced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup apple brandy
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups corn flakes, crushed
Add the wild rice, 4 cups chicken broth, water, rosemary and thyme to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Cook 20 minutes, then remove lid, stir and simmer uncovered until almost all the water is either absorbed or cooked off. While the rice is cooking, prepare a large glass casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. When the rice is ready, remove rosemary and thyme stems and spread the wild rice evenly across the bottom of the casserole dish.
While the rice is cooking, place the diced squash in a large, microwave safe bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water, cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave 7 minutes, shaking the bowl to redistribute the squash halfway through that time. The squash should be partially cooked and somewhat soft by then; if not, cook a bit longer. Remove plastic wrap, drain the squash in a colander and set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and the liquid is mostly cooked off. Clear a spot in the middle of the skillet, add the garlic and cook 30 seconds, then stir the garlic in with the other vegetables. Add pepper and salt, then transfer the contents of the skillet to the casserole dish, spreading it in an even layer atop the wild rice. Next spread the squash in an even layer.
Wipe the skillet clean, then add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and heat until simmering. Add the apple pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the apples are browned on both sides. Add the apple brandy and cook, stirring occasionally, until the brandy has cooked down most of the way.
Add chicken broth and cook until it has cooked halfway down, then stir in cream and heat through. Transfer the apple mixture to the casserole dish, spreading it in an even layer.
While the apples are cooking, melt the butter in a small bowl. Let it cool for a bit, then add honey and cinnamon and stir to mix.
Top the casserole dish evenly with the crushed corn flakes, then drizzle the butter mixture evenly atop the corn flakes.
Place the casserole dish in the oven and cook until the cornflakes are well-browned and the apple-cream mixture is heavily bubbling, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, let stand 10 minutes, then serve.