Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rice and pecan loaf with onion sauce

Two simple-looking recipes from Marion Cunningham's Fannie Farmer Cookbook (1986) enclose layers upon layers of preparation, and end in sheer deliciousness -- this is possibly among the top five tastiest special foods I've ever made. Lots of everyday things are tasty too, but I do think Rice and Pecan loaf with Onion Sauce is something you want to save for an occasion.

Over the years I have cooked this often enough to have learned how to break down the work into a convenient order. But first, let's look at the recipes, "utterly simple," as Marion Cunningham says. In a way, they are.

Rice and pecan loaf

1 and 1/2 cups brown rice, cooked
1 and 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
1 and 1/2 cups cracker crumbs
1 egg, well beaten
1 and 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 Tbsp melted butter
1 recipe Onion Sauce (follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and butter a 2 quart loaf pan. Mix all the ingredients except the melted butter and the Onion Sauce. When everything is well blended, turn the mix into the pan. Pour the melted butter over. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, and then serve with the sauce.

Onion sauce
3 medium onions, chopped
4 Tbsp butter
1 recipe White Sauce (see below)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste

Bring a pan of water to a boil, and add the chopped onions. Cook for 1 minute. Begin melting the butter in a separate pot. Drain the onions, and then toss them in the melted butter. Cover them and cook them over low heat, tossing so they do not burn, until they are softened, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350 F. Put the onions in a shallow baking dish, add the white sauce and the nutmeg, and stir to blend. Cover the dish with tin foil, and bake 30 minutes, until the onions are mushy. Remove from the oven, and push through a strainer into a clean pot. The sauce will be very thick, so now add the cream and salt, and heat through without boiling. Serve with the rice and pecan loaf.


Utterly simple, isn't it? Marion Cunningham also says this is "an old Southern tradition." Somehow, I don't doubt it. Slave labor in the kitchen would help with this one.

Here is how you break down the work. Allow yourself a nice long afternoon, please. From start to finish it takes about three hours. But then, most good dinners do.


Step 1: Make the white sauce in which you will bake the onions; cook the brown rice; chop the pecans.

White sauce

4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a small heavy saucepan. When it bubbles, stir in the flour. Cook and stir the flour to make a bubbly paste. Then, add the milk, gradually, until you have a gently bubbling thick creamy sauce. Add salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

For the brown rice, put 1 cup rice, 2 cups water, and 1 Tbsp butter into a medium sized heavy bottomed pot. Stir to blend, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 35 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender.


Step 2: Blanch the onions in the water, and then cook them in butter, covered. Crush the crackers.


Step 3: Butter the loaf pan. Mix the rice and pecan loaf. Preheat the oven.


Step 4: Bake the onions in the white sauce (30 minutes) and bake the loaf (1 hour).


Step 5: While the loaf is still baking, remove the onions from the oven. Strain them through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. Add the cream, heat through, and adjust the salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the loaf from the oven, and let it cool and solidify a little before attempting to turn it out onto a plate. Otherwise, your "loaf" might be a delectable mush, hardly worth photographing except in extreme close-up, and possibly not then. But so tasty.

Dinner is served.


Notice all the things you need for the two recipes -- mostly, a lot of butter. Normally recipes start with ingredients lists, as these of course do, but this pair requires you to think backwards through it as well, as you assemble your shopping list. In total, you'll be using:

1 cup raw brown rice
1 and 1/2 cups pecans
1 and 1/2 cups cracker crumbs
1 egg
3 and 1/4 cups milk
11 Tbsp (1 stick plus 3 Tbsp) butter
3 onions
1/2 cup cream
4 Tbsp flour
1 tsp plus more salt
1/2 tsp plus more pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg

There, an encouraging picture to get you started. Did we mention the whole butter thing?

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