My mother was a fairly good cook, but she depended on recipes. She kept a little box of them, some scrawled on 3-by-5 index cards, others torn from newspapers.
Sharing recipes was common among her friends. Some were keepers, while others were tried just once, like a cauliflower kugel; we all preferred the standard version with the canned crushed pineapple and cottage cheese.
Weeknight dinners were simple, mostly broiled chicken thighs, meatloaf and stuffed cabbage, or the occasional paprika-dusted frozen swordfish steak with tartar sauce.
But I always looked forward to company dinners, for which there was a limited rotation of fancier dishes. There might be a fat sirloin steak marinated overnight in bottled Italian salad dressing, for instance, and French-cut green beans with mushrooms.
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With luck there would be spinach rice, one of my favorite side dishes.
Spinach rice took two packages of thawed frozen spinach, a couple of cups of cooked Uncle Ben’s rice, a generous amount of sliced almonds gently browned in margarine and a handful of raisins. Grated faux Parmesan helped give the rice a crisp golden top crust. It was to die for. I always had seconds and usually went back for a couple of extra spoonfuls on the sly.
My version here is made from scratch, with fresh spinach and jasmine rice.
Baked spinach rice
Yield: 6 servings; total time: 1 hour
1 pound spinach (about 2 bunches), washed
1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice, such as Carolina or jasmine
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter, plus more to butter the baking dish
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup ricotta
1 cup grated Gruyère or other Swiss cheese
1/4 cup currants
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 teaspoon chopped sage
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add spinach and wilt for 30 seconds. Remove with a wire mesh spider or tongs and rinse in a colander with cold water. Squeeze dry and chop roughly.
In the same pot, boil the rice for 10 minutes, keeping it slightly underdone. Drain and spread on a baking sheet to cool, then transfer to a large bowl.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 2-quart soufflé dish (or other baking dish) and dust with about 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and cook, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes. Season lightly with salt and add contents of skillet to rice.
Add remaining Parmesan to rice, along with the ricotta, Gruyère, currants, nutmeg, lemon zest, thyme and sage. Season lightly with salt and add pepper to taste. Add chopped spinach and gently toss rice with hands or wooden spoons to distribute ingredients evenly. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. (May be prepared up to this point several hours in advance of baking.)
Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake 10 minutes more, until top is browned.