Although my parents claim to have loved us, there were all sorts of delicious foods that my sister and I knew our friends got to eat in their homes that we were denied in our own, glorious meal-like substances such as shake-and-bake chicken, hamburger helpers, sugar cereals with colorful marshmallows, and popcorn in that thing that unspirals itself and expands in the oven, like, whoa. Childhood was tough! Even now as (theoretically) an adult, I routinely hear about wondrous foods that I have never even once experienced, such as the broccoli-cheese casserole that someone (was it you?) requested I try my hand at earlier this year.
Unfamiliar with the dish, I asked around and it turns out, I really do seem the only person who has never had it. That said, among people I’ve interrogated, reviews are mixed. One friend gushed that it was the only way he’d eat broccoli growing up, another asked me to please bring it back in style, but the girl at the coffee shop this morning said it “smelled disgusting and was often made with Cheez-Whiz,” (sigh, another magical food on the Denied list). And it would be journalistically irresponsible for me not to mention that the dish was called out by name by Cook’s Illustrated founder Chris Kimball in a New York Times op-ed in the days after my beloved Gourmet magazine folded as an example of the web failing to live up to its promise. “Google ‘broccoli casserole’ and make the first recipe you find,” he challenged. “I guarantee it will be disappointing.”
Feh, I say, let people cook however they want. And this here is my way (published on an internet website no less!) which is to say, look, I totally failed. Lacking warm memories that would anchor my plans to the original iteration of the dish, I instead made this, a wild rice casserole with broccoli and, yes, cheddar cheese sauce, broiled until crisp on top. I have zero regrets; we were too busy eating it to consider how heretical it might be. Well, most of us. Certain members of our family will only eat broccoli and rice if they arrive separately on his plate, thank you very much, and I cannot wait until he has a food blog one day to air these injustices, too.
Talk to me: What foods did you envy at friends houses that you were denied at your own? And what do you think my son’s food blog will be called? (I vote for “My Mother Was a Terrible Cook!” which is my favorite line from Big Night.)
Three years ago: The Best Baked Spinach
Four years ago: Monkey Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze and Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart
Five years ago: Devil’s Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks
Six years ago: Homemade Devil Dog or Hostess Cake
Seven years ago: Indian-Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes + Red Lentils with Cabbage
Broccoli, Cheddar and Wild Rice Casserole
Serves 4 as a generous side
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 large onion, diced
2/3 cup uncooked wild rice blend, rinsed
1 pound broccoli
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard powder or 1/2 teaspoon smooth Dijon
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
8 ounces cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice to onion and cook for 1 minute, then add 1 1/3 cups water and a few pinches of salt. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to lowest temperature and cook with the lid on for about 50 minutes (or whatever amount of time is suggested on your package of rice). If you’d like a rice cooker to do this for you, transfer onions, water and rice to the machine and set the machine.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Peel broccoli stems and dice them into large chunks. Cut florets into 1-inch pieces. Cook in boiling, well-salted water for 2 to 3 minutes, then drain.
You can use this same pan to make the cheese sauce. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in pan over medium heat. Once melted, add the mustard powder (if using), a pinch of cayenne and garlic and let sizzle for 1 minute. Add flour and whisk until combined, cooking the butter-flour mixture for 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly drizzle in milk, whisking constantly, then broth. Bring to a simmer and cook mixture at a simmer, stirring the whole time, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in smooth Dijon mustard if you didn’t use mustard powder.
Remove pan from heat and stir in 1/3 of grated cheese until melted. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Combine cooked wild rice blend and broccoli in a 2-quart baking dish or a 9-inch oven-safe skillet. Pour cheese sauce over and gently nudge to ensure all pieces get some sauce. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top. Bake casserole for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly, then run mixture under the broiler until cheese is toasty on top.