It's been awfully chilly in Chicago lately. Sweaters have been in order. I'd turn up the heat, but that's not how things work in my building. The steam radiators sort of just cycle at their whim, and right now, that means not very often at all. So, I've been looking for just about any excuse to fire up the oven.
It feels good just to be able to say that. When my boyfriend and I got back from Romania, we called up the gas company so that they could turn on our gas (there just wasn't any time before the trip) only to find out that there was a major leak in our apartment somewhere. Plumbers came, replaced everything between the stove and the floor, and still no luck. These were dark times. All we had was a slow cooker and an electric kettle to prepare our meals. So the plumbers came back to find the real source of the leak. It turned out that it was in the ceiling. My building is old, like really old, like originally-had-gas-lighting old. The pipe running from the main gas line to the old gas lighting in the kitchen had never been properly cut off and capped. Oops.
But all of that has been fixed now, which brings me back to excuses to fire up the oven. Here's a really good one: Heidi Swanson's wild rice and mushroom casserole. I've been a fan of Heidi's blog, 101 Cookbooks, for a long time. Hers was the very first food blog I'd ever stumbled upon, and it was just when I had started taking seriously the idea of cooking for myself. So, you could say that following her blog and cooking from it were formative experiences. I made my first batch of quinoa, my first vegan chocolate pudding, my first from-scratch veggie burgers, etc. encouraged by her firm and reassuring words (the gorgeous photos helped too). Though that was ages ago, I still turn to Heidi for inspiration when I'm looking for something original, wholesome, down-to-earth, and delicious. This casserole from her new(ish) cookbook, Super Natural Every Day, is all of those things.
Wild rice and mushrooms lend the casserole a little heft and earthiness. Sour cream, cottage cheese, and a couple of eggs add a bit of richness and hold it all together. Then there are a few French-inspired flourishes--Dijon mustard, gruyère, and a sprinkling of thyme. I added a few more of my own--port for some more depth, hazelnuts for crunchiness, kale for a bit of green. The result is spoonful after spoonful of warm, gooey, and comforting goodness. So when you're ready for a sweater, think about curling up with a bowlful of this too.
Wild Rice and Mushroom Casserole
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Note: To make three cups of wild rice, bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Stir in 1 cup of wild rice, return it to a boil, and then bring it down to a simmer. Cook covered for about 50 minutes. Drain and fluff. You'll have a little more than the three cups you need. Baking dishes: I divided the casserole mixture between six 10-ounce ramekins and popped them on a half-sheet, which worked out really well. My boyfriend and I tended to divide a third ramekin between the two of us, since we weren't feeling fancy enough to make any sides.
2 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz cottage cheese
1/2 cup / 4 oz sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of chili flakes
Fine-grain sea salt
1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup / 2 oz port
8 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3-4 medium kale leaves, stems removed and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 cups cooked wild rice and/or brown rice, at room temperature
1/3 cup / 0.5 oz freshly grated gruyère cheese + more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme or tarragon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Rub a medium-large baking dish with a bit of butter. Alternatively, you can use individual baking dishes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cottage cheese, sour cream, mustard, chili flakes, and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with a few pinches of salt. Stir in the mushrooms and port. Cover and cook for five minutes, allowing the mushrooms to take in the port. Then uncover the skillet and let the liquid evaporate, about another five minutes. Continue to cook and stir every couple of minutes until the mushrooms are browned. Add the onion and cook until the onion is translucent, another two or three minutes. Stir in the kale and cook until just wilted, another couple of minutes. Then, add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, just until fragrant. Finally, add the rice to the skillet and stir until combined.
Add the rice mixture to the cottage cheese mixture, stir until well-combined, and turn into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the half-ounce of gruyère and hazelnuts. Then, cover with aluminium foil.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the casserole takes on a lot of colour. If you are in a rush, you can finish it under a broiler for a couple of minutes, but watch carefully so the top of your casserole doesn't burn; it can happen quickly. The finished casserole should be hot throughout and golden along the edges. Sprinkle with the chopped thyme and a bit of grated gruyère.Serves six.