Monday, March 12, 2007

Instant Tradition

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.


Catherine said...

very pretty and tasty sounding! A bread pudding would be great too! a rice cooker - what a concept! must get one of those.

Dagny said...

I just "discovered" D-man thanks to Sam. I know I will be going back.

And that asparagus thing? Yesterday when I was debating about making a chicken hash, I thought, "You know that luscious asparagus in the fridge won't last long. Would it be wrong to throw it, chopped of course, into a hash?" Because that's the kind of thoughts that go down on this side of the Bay. But now you've given me another alternative since I picked up a variety of cheeses (the only thing that surpasses bacon in my mind) while out shopping on Saturday.

Anonymous said...

I an so excited to see you playing with the wonderful Italian tradition of using whatever is at hand, taking food from the ice-a-box to produce something altogether wonderful, like this dish. Soul food? For sure. I'll bet the rice used by the nonna in Marin was not arhorio or basmati, just what was at hand -- as in American long-grain rice. Brava, Cookie, for sharing this. Encore!

cookiecrumb said...

Catherine: I've been hooked on savory bread puddings, but this was so much easier.
(Rice cooker -- Come with Aunt Cookie into the 21st Century!)

Dagny: He's fun. Smart. Good cook. Taken.
Your chicken hash looked mahvellous, BTW. Not sure I'd put asparagus in it, but... well, it could be mahvellous; let me know if you do.

Kudzu: The truth is I assiduously shopped for the asparagus and green garlic specifically for this rice dish, because it sounded right. And it was. But yes, now I have a basic canvas to paint other meals on. Rice is good.

Monkey Wrangler said...

*blush, dragging foot around, looking down* Gee thanks cc! All that linky fun and #64 stuff had my heart pounding with the thought that someone besides yourself, my family, and about three other deranged bloggers might be reading my stuff. Good thing it ended up being a post I liked!

And I guess, you're welcome for the outline. Your version looks and sounds fantastic, definately an instant tradition. I guess I never gave you any food I made, so you had to go out and make your own......I shall correct this soon enough.

btw: that salt is nice, I'm working on a post of sorts.

cranky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cookiecrumb said...

(Damn, I keep forgetting to sign off from Cranky's sign-in... had to delete the above comment in his name because it was from me and here it is.)

D-man: Ah, here you are! The star of the show.
Yes, my meal was wonderful and I recommend this version to you while it's spring. Thanks for the, uh, "springboard!"

Anonymous said...

This looks great! I need to call home (my Italian home) and find out why I never had this growing up. Heads will roll...ha ha ha...

cookiecrumb said...

Chris: Yeah, I just looked through the Silver Spoon cookbook and didn't find anything very close to this.
Try it!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Hey Cookie, I just made a version of your version of my tweaking of grandma's version of my great grandmother's version. It was damn good. Totally different creature than the original, but with that savory rice pudding thing as a fluffy rack to hang flavors on, who cares. More filling and tastes great. Like a good beer. And, I used my homemade salt. More on that later, when blogger will let me upload a picture......

Oh yeah, I even gave Biggles some today to see what he thinks (salt and torte) so I suspect the evolution ain't through.

cookiecrumb said...

Hey, Dylan: Homemade salt? We have to talk.
So, did you use asparagus in your tweak-upon-tweaks? Mm.
Thanks for the compliment on my fluffy rack; you... oh... wait.
Never mind.