Mushroom Rice Pilaf

Mushrooms and rice make for beautiful bedfellows.

In my last post, I gushed about a brand of Basmati rice that really made my skirt fly up. It was perfect as just plain rice with butter, salt and pepper. I also used it to make a homemade version of the kind of pilaf you might have seen in a boxed mix, with a cable car logo? This is much, much better. Trust me.

I started with a few basic ingredients: Lundberg's California Basmati rice, of course.
Some vermicelli, or other small-diameter pasta. A shallot. A clove of garlic. One celery heart. Salt, parsley and a pinch of oregano. An assortment of fresh mushrooms (I used cremini, oyster and shitake mushrooms, but you do what you think is best), butter and a carton of this stuff:

If you've ever tried making a homemade version of the boxed San Francisco treat kind of stuff, you may have noticed that it's difficult to get the rice and the pasta to the right level of doneness in one pan. There's a trick to this.

Are you ready?

Brace yourself.

Soak the rice in hot water for half an hour. This is my opportunity to tell you something that might scare you. Having worked in a plumbing supply story for 7 years, Please, don't use hot water straight from your tap for this step. Heat some cold water in the microwave or on the stove. The stuff that can be in your water heater doesn't belong in your rice.

End of soapbox moment.

Now, remember, I cook by the seat of my pants, so this recipe isn't exactly EXACT in its measurements. So, to feed the two of us with some planned leftovers for my lunches, I put 2 cups of rice in a fine sieve, and put that in a large bowl. Then I added 4 cups of hot water and let it soak while I went on to other things.

Prep the mushrooms and things. Mince the garlic and the shallot. Brush and chop the mushrooms; chop them as fine as you like. You want big chunks of meaty mushrooms? Don't chop so much. I had about a 1-1/4 cups of chopped mushrooms. I minced the celery heart, leaves and all, very finely, since I dislike celery unless it is part of a symphony and not a solo act.

In a large, deep skillet, I melted about a tablespoon of butter and sauteed my minced shallot until it was translucent. Then I threw in the minced garlic and sauteed that together until it smelled fabulous. I sprinkled in about 1/2 a teaspoon of dried oregano (a little less, really: just about as much as you can pinch with your thumb, index and middle fingers) plus a good cupped-palmful of parsley and tossed that in to toast it somewhat. Add the celery and cook that for a minute or so. Add another tablespoon of butter and when it melts, add the mushrooms.

Saute all of those together until the mushrooms have some browned, meaty-looking edges. While the mushrooms are cooking, if it's been half an hour or so, drain and rinse the rice. Rinse it until the water runs pretty much clear, and then shake that sieve until there's hardly any water dripping at all. Then take all that out mushroom magic of the pan and set it aside. Heat the pan again, adding another 2 tablespoons of butter (Oh, stop! We're not even up to half a stick, yet!) (Oh, fine. Use coconut oil if you want.) when it's hot, add 1/2 cup of pasta to toast it, and add the rice to toast that. If you used something like angel hair and want to break into short pieces, by all means, do so before you toast it.

When the rice and pasta are fragrant and nutty, add your mushroom mixture back to the pan, and add 3-1/2 cups of the mushroom broth above, or chicken stock, or water, or a combination of the three, or even one of those with a little white wine. Go wild. Have fun.

Have another 1/2 cup or so of your liquid ready, in case you need more liquid to finish cooking the rice. In other words, don't guzzle ALL the wine. Save a little until you're sure of its best use.

When the liquid is at a full, serious simmer, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Resist looking for at least 15 minutes, unless you smell something burning. After 15 minutes on low, you can peek. If the liquid seems to be absorbed, at least mostly absorbed, taste a grain of rice and a piece of pasta. Are they done? Al dente? If not, add more liquid if you need to, just a splash, cover the pan and continue simmering, checking ever 3-5 minutes or so. If they are done and there is still a bit of liquid left, just uncover and let that reduce. This has never happened to me, though. I've had to add a bit of liquid, but never had too much at the end of the cooking time. Maybe it's just luck.

Now you have enough of the yummy stuff to fill the trunk of a Buick. My plan was to have leftovers for my lunches, but think of all the other things you could do with the leftovers!

Add a little cooked, crumbled sausage and some good feta or parmesan cheese and use it to fill stuffed mushrooms, pork chops, chicken cutlets or Cornish game hens.
Turn it into a chicken-mushroom-rice soup. Yum!
Add some to a breakfast burrito to elevate it beyond blah.
Mix some into a meatloaf and make it more sophisticated.

So many wonderful things you can do with this. Best of all, serve it alongside a nice piece of fish or chicken, with a glass of nice wine and sit across the table from someone who makes your heart go pitter pat.

Now I'm wondering if I could have saved the water the rice soaked in and started a batch of horchata with that? That would be nice.

I think this would be a good recipe to add some chopped kale, broccoli or spinach to. It would probably be delicious with some cooked ground turkey added for a one-pot dinner. I mean really, rice and mushrooms? They go with everything!

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