Bay Area Blogger of the Week #64 — that would be the Sourdough Monkey Wrangler — recently posted a tale of a loving re-creation, or an attempt at it, anyway, of one of his Italian great-grandmother's traditional dishes, rice torte.
He just wasn't sure he was getting it right. Zucchini aren't in season yet, so he had to substitute broccoli and spinach. He was using dry Jack cheese in place of parmesan (although not only was he surprised at the successful outcome, his mom told him sometimes his great-grandmother used dry Jack).
For D-man, the Monkey Wrangler, this dish is pure family love, a rush of memories, a wallow in the gene pool with grated cheese on top.
For me? Fuhgeddaboudit.
I have no Italian heritage that I know of. I just wanted to eat this food.
It didn't bother me to make substitutions, because I have no benchmark, no cooped-up family guilt, no one to please but myself.
So I pleased myself with an ode to spring.
Asparagus is in the market! Green garlic is in the market! And eggs? What could be springier.
This torte is prepared in three easy steps, but I'm new to step #1: cooking rice in milk with butter. Apparently the electric rice cooker was not designed for this peculiarly non-Asian adaptation. The milk scorched on the bottom of the pot and the rice was still a bit hard... all easily remedied with a splash of water and a little sitting, off-heat. I probably should have used Italian rice instead of basmati.
Step 2 is simple: a skillet full of chopped vegetables, sautéed to a toothsome near-doneness. I used maitake mushrooms, aka hen of the woods, in my mix because I love them.
Step 3 is even easier: a few eggs blended with a nice handful of grated cheese.
Combine these three components, pour into a (well-greased!!) casserole, and bake.
I'm not telling you the proper recipe because this is not a recipe blog. I think you should take a look at D-man's version and riff off of that, if you like.
So what did I come up with? It was guuuud! Cuddly, from the milky softness of the rice, but assertive in a non-kickass way from the asparagus and green garlic. The eggs hold it together and the cheese just sends it over the top.
It reminds me of a favorite savory bread pudding, but actually it's a savory rice pudding.
Thanks for the new "deep-seated aroma memory," D-man.