As mentioned in my last post, this Baked Rice and Mozzarella Pie recipe was the side dish that always accompanied chicken or veal parmigiana (see last week’s post) in my family growing up. It might seem like too much cheese or too much sauce to you for one meal, but believe me, it works. That being said, this is a wonderful side dish to just about anything. Once you put this on a plate next to something plainly grilled or baked, you have a spectacular (and yes, now more fattening) meal. It’s also a great way to use up a little left over tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Now that I think of it, this was probably my grandmother’s version of risotto. There was no arborio rice in the United States years ago, nor did you find risotto on a menu. It’s another one of those Italian peasant dishes that has found its way into being an expensive, elaborate culinary creation. In the Italian villages, where it began, it was just another way to fill up the stomachs of one’s family as cheaply (and always deliciously) as possible.
I still make this the old fashioned way, like my grandmother and mother…….regular rice, leftover marinara sauce, mozzarella, and breadcrumbs (you can make your own, but I keep it simple and use already prepared). I will give you measurements, but so much is up to you, the cook. You can alter the amount of sauce and/or mozzarella you want to use. Let me just say that this is delicious without any tomato sauce. When there wasn’t any leftover sauce, my mom would do without, and it’s still amazing. The key here is to cook it well, so that all the mozzarella melts into gooey chunks, and that the outside is crisp and crunchy from the breadcrumbs. We used to fight over the outside crunchy pieces!
RECIPE: serves 6 as side dish ( not my family, but it should be plenty)
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice (I always use Uncle Ben’s….and not quick cooking, just regular).
1 cup tomato sauce, plus a little extra for the top
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut in 1 inch or so chunks, with 4 slices saved for the top.
1/2 cup grated parmigiana cheese
Italian style breadcrumbs
1. Make rice according to package directions, but you don’t want the rice too mushy so I use a little less water. Cool a bit.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
3. Grease the bottom and sides (very well…this is where you get the crunch from) of a 2 quart deep casserole dish. Coat well with breadcrumbs. ( I put a good bit of crumbs in the greased dish and then slide them all around to get every inch of the dish coated.)
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the rice, sauce, and mozzarella chunks, and 1/4 cup of the grated cheese. Mix until the mozzarella starts to melt.
5. Pour into the prepared casserole dish. Top with a little more sauce, if desired, and the mozzarella slices and more grated cheese. I also scattered a little more breadcrumbs on top.
6. Cover and place in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Take off the cover and cook for 10 minutes more, making sure the mozzarella on top is golden brown and sides are well done and crunchy.