This weekend was all about taking a breather and catching up around the house. Just back from a special holiday, there were a lot of loose ends at home and it was extremely comforting to cook on the woodstove after meals out for two weeks straight. With a fennel languishing in a fridge drawer and thoughts of a comforting baked dish in mind, I went hunting around for an inspiration recipe. The one I found struck me as a touch dull but a very solid starting point.
The combination of brown rice, onions and fennel seemed appealing enough, but the original method just had those scant few ingredients tossed together in a casserole dish along with the liquid and summarily placed in a hot oven to bake. Not a fan of slow-cooker recipes that don’t involve any initial browning of key ingredients due to the lack of resulting flavour, the first thing I did was saute my leeks, fennel and garlic with a bit of olive oil and butter to release the flavours and soften things up. (Note: I undertook this step on my conventional stovetop, as I had my hob lids down on the Ironheart to hasten the heating up of the oven box; normally I’d have cooked on top of the Ironheart as well.)
Into my pre-greased casserole I placed the long grain brown basmati, along with the garlicky leeks and fennel, some chopped carrot and a generous handful of currants, as well as salt and pepper.
The original recipe called for a mixture of water and milk for the liquid, and I stuck with this suggestion. When I incorporated the milky liquid I really felt for a moment as though I were making a rice pudding, but I guess a baked rice casserole is much the same thing.
The original recipe called for the milk mixture to be heated before being added to the other ingredients, and I plum forgot this step, which is bound to be one of the reasons why my casserole took much longer to bake than indicated in the original recipe. Where the original indicated 60 minutes at 375F, mine took closer to three hours at the bottom end of the “Very Hot” range on my Ironheart. Which, in fact, turned out to be a nice way to slowly cook this dish. I also found myself needing to add more liquid, which I did roughly once an hour, about a cup or so at a time.
The resulting casserole was nicely fragrant and very delicious in a homespun, comforting kind of way. It was well worth the wait and I enjoyed the anticipation as I got other things done around the house while it baked.
Brown Rice and Fennel Casserole with Currants
(adapted from this original recipe)
1 1/2 cups brown rice (I used long grain brown basmati), dry
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup milk
1 fennel, roughly chopped
2 leeks, chopped (the original called for onion)
2 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup currants (or raisins)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or more if you like!)
Step 1 – Get your Ironheart close to baking strength (low end of “Very Hot” range) or preheat your conventional oven to 375F
Step 2 – Chop leeks and fennel, crush garlic and saute with olive oil and butter for a few minutes
Step 3 – Grease a casserole dish with a bit of olive oil; pour in rice, leek-fennel mixture, and remaining ingredients; stir to combine
Step 4 – Cover with foil and place in Ironheat / oven for 60 minutes
Step 5 – Check rice for doneness and general moistness level; add water if needed, and continue baking as required (see notes above)
Step 6 – Continue checking the casserole for doneness until ready; in the Ironheart this recipe took about three hours to finish baking thoroughly and the cheese was sprinkled on top for just the last few minutes in the oven
Enjoy on its own or with a green salad or another simple green vegetable.