From Scratch: Variety is the spice of rice


Many years back, my mother came to visit me when I lived in New York City. She enjoyed shopping immensely but wasn't much of a restaurant person, so I cooked every night. Even though we were in the restaurant capital of the U.S., she claimed I cooked "gourmet" and she would rather eat at home.

As she was leaving, she thanked me for the visit and the delicious meals, but she added as a parting comment, "You served rice every night."

I stopped a moment and realized that she was right. However, since each rice dish was different and I made three different kinds of rice, I never thought of it as something repetitious.

One dish I didn't make when she was there was my version of Rice-A-Roni — probably as I didn't consider it gourmet enough. It is a favorite standby for when I am tired of potatoes or pasta.

I usually have all of the ingredients on hand, so it doesn't require a trip to the store. Another plus is it is quick to make. Unlike the packaged rice mixes, which are loaded with salt and MSG, you can prepare this one to your taste.

To begin, heat one tablespoon butter in a medium size sauce pan. When it is hot, add a couple of chopped scallions and saute for a minute or two. If you don't have scallions on hand, finely chop a small onion and saute over low heat until it is soft.

Next, add 1/2 cup long grain rice such as Carolina or a store brand long grain rice and 1/2 cup orzo (rice-shaped) pasta. Please don't substitute converted or instant rice, as the cooking times and tastes are different.

Saute the rice and orzo for a few minutes in the butter/scallion mixture. Add 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. If you have chicken stock on hand, you can use that and the taste will be even better. Bring to a boil and then cover the pot.

Reduce the flame to the lowest heat and cook 20 minutes. Turn off the flame and let sit covered for 10 minutes. When ready to serve, toss with a fork and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

This is a basic recipe. You can add garlic and other herbs and spices of your preference to change the flavor. A pinch of turmeric will give it a nice yellow color.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.