Mushroom, White Bean and Brown Rice Casserole with Bacon and Gruyère
I know everyone’s probably sick of hearing about the polar vortex, but it is real, and for someone with bad circulation, it is very scary.
During the first round of polar vortex weather a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t that concerned. I had very few social obligations, and since I do all of my busy and important work from home, I did what any normal cold-fearing person would do. I didn’t go outside. At all. For three full days. Instead, I stayed in the comfort of my onesie, got my groceries delivered, and cranked the heat. It may have been freezing outside, but it was spring break weather in apartment 31. Crisis averted.
Unfortunately, when the vortex returned earlier this week, previous commitments forced me to brave the elements. When I walked out into the blizzard on Monday, I almost had a panic attack. My fingers and toes went numb immediately, and when I finally made it to my destination, I was unable to communicate in anything other than shivers and expletives for a good five minutes. Even my hair was cold.
It doesn’t look like things are going to warm up anytime soon, so I’ve been whipping up cozy comfort food for my roommate, myself, and anyone else that’s willing to make the trek to my living room like it’s my job (which it kind of is). There’s been a lot of soup and chili happening up in here, but the most insanely bomb thing to come out of my kitchen this week was Mushroom, White Bean and Brown Rice Casserole with Bacon and Gruyère.
If you’re thrown off by the idea of making a casserole, I feel you. For some reason the word “casserole” always makes me think of old ladies, cats, and tuna noodle casserole. (For the record, the latter is actually my worst nightmare.) However, I’ve recently stumbled across some badass baked creations in various food publications that have forced me to reconsider my anti-casserole stance.
I knew I had my work cut out for me in terms of trying to sell all of you on a casserole, since when I informed my friend Annie of my plans to make one this week, she said, “Casseroles are weird. Is this for a Mad Men Party? Are you serving jello salad as a side?” Funny. All I have to say is that she is going to eat her words (and probably this casserole) because it is a game changer, friends.
Forgive me for tooting my own horn here, but this obscenely delicious baked miracle will probably change the world of casseroles forever. I mean, look at it. I’m actually relieved that my roommate wasn’t home when I pulled this out of the oven yesterday because we’re out of paper bags, and he would have needed one to breathe into at the sight of this. You might too.
Let’s take a second to strip down this sexy beast, shall we? First, we’ve got sautéed leeks, onions, and a blend of shitake and cremini mushrooms sautéed with garlic, thyme, and fresh sage. Then some hearty cannellini beans are added into the mix, along with tender brown rice, crispy bacon, and a combo of melty fontina and nutty gruyère. The casserole is topped with more of the aforementioned cheeses, along with a mixture of grated Parmesan and whole wheat Panko that forms a fabulously crunchy topping when baked. The whole shebang comes out of the oven bubbling, golden brown and glorious, before receiving an extra courtesy sprinkle of crumbled bacon. Cue expletives and tears of joy.
One of the greatest wonders of this casserole is that it’s incredibly versatile. It’s a satisfying meal on it’s own, but it also makes a phenomenal side dish for everything from filet mignon to pork chops. Omit the bacon (devastating), and this easily becomes a fancy vegetarian option. Can’t find gruyère or fontina at your local market? Relax, it would be just as delicious with a blend of different cheeses (i.e. mozzarella, pecorino, ricotta, Swiss, goat, or even plain old cheddar). Feel free to experiment with different types of mushrooms, swap bacon for sausage, or try orzo, farro, or bulgur instead of brown rice. So many possibilities!
While this casserole is the perfect thing to eat alone on your couch in polar vortex conditions, it is an equally fabulous choice for cold weather entertaining. Few things please a crowd more than bubbling cheese and bacon, and setting this dish on your table is guaranteed to induce a flood of hugs and compliments. The magical smell alone is enough to turn even the toughest casserole critic into a compliment-slinging softie. You can also prep the entire recipe in advance and then pop it in the oven a half hour before serving, which makes life infinitely easier for those of us who were born to socialize.
In the spirit of transparency, I feel obligated to inform you that this recipe may take you a little bit longer than you’re used to. Don’t panic, it’s 100% idiot-proof, but you will need to spend almost an hour physically standing (or sitting, no judgment) in your kitchen. Before you start throwing things at your computer screen, hear me out. You can do this. Read through the entire recipe, put on your domestic game face, and get thee to the kitchen.
With a little bit of organization, assembling the casserole is actually a breeze. You’ll have plenty of time to prep the bacon, vegetables, and cheese while the rice is cooking, and then you can set the table, do a costume change, or have a cocktail once you transfer the baking dish to the oven. If you’re capable of multitasking (which is impressive when there are knives involved), I recommend using the prep time to call your mom on speakerphone or catch up on your tv. Just saying.
Stay warm. Make casserole. Rock out.
Mushroom, White Bean and Brown Rice Casserole with Bacon and Gruyère: (Serves 4 generously)
1¼ cups short grain brown rice
2¼ cup mushroom stock/broth
6 slices bacon
1½ tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
½ yellow onion, minced
4 cloves garlic minced
1½ cups (about 3.5 ounces) shitake mushroom caps, sliced
1½ cups cremini mushroom caps, sliced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
6 sage leaves, chopped
1 19-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
¾ cup shredded fontina
1 cup shredded gruyère (I bought a block of gruyère and then grated it on the large holes of a box grater)
¼ cup whole wheat Panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley (optional)
Preparing your Mushroom, White Bean and Brown Rice Casserole with Bacon and Gruyère:
*Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Rub a medium baking dish with a little olive oil and set aside. (You could also use a cast iron skillet if you like!)
-Combine the brown rice and mushroom stock in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5-10 minutes, covered, then fluff with a fork.
-Place the strips of bacon on a rack over a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes until brown and crispy. When cool enough to handle, crumble the bacon and set aside until ready to use.
-While your bacon is in the oven, prepare all of the other ingredients for the casserole. Slice the leeks and mushrooms, mince the onions and garlic, chop the herbs, rinse the beans, and grate the cheeses. (Trust me, having everything ready to go by the stove will make your life infinitely easier, friends.)
-When you have all your ingredients ready to go, you’re ready to start cooking. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add the leeks, onions and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
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