Rick Bayless’s Arroz Gratinado. Well, Sort Of
I harvested a boatload of poblano peppers from my balcony garden this afternoon and was so excited to use them again. The fact that they are totally unavailable here makes them so precious. The previous foray was a chicken dish with poblano crema and this time it’s going to be an Italianized version of Rick Bayless’s Tomato-Rice Casserole With Poblanos and Melted Cheese, succinctly termed in Spanish, "Arroz Gratinado". The idea is a poblano-tomato sauce layered over rice and topped with melty cheese that gets brown and bubbly in the oven. Sounds great! Thing is I have none of the called for Chihuahua cheese, Mexican oregano or medium-grain rice, so I’m winging this with Italian “fontal” cheese, Greek oregano and arborio. How bad could it be? (she brightly asks with barely repressed doubt and fear)
Here’s my version of the recipe:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large white onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp oregano
12 ozs roasted, peeled, seeded poblano peppers, sliced into thin strips
1 14 oz can of tomatoes
2 tsps salt
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup grated fontal cheese
In a frying pan, brown the onion in the oil (about 5 minutes) add the oregano and garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the peppers and the tomatoes. Cook another 5 minutes until the tomato juices thicken. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt.
Boil the arborio in abundant water (at least 6 cups) for 10 minutes until the rice is partially cooked. Drain and let cool. Music to make Italo-Mexicano food by: the multi-ethnic-but-mainly-Mexican-music-playing band, Ozomatli (named after the mischeivious monkey on the Aztec calendar)
Preheat the oven to 350F Spread ½ of the rice onto a greased 8”x8” baking dish. Top with ½ of the poblano-tomato sauce and sprinkle with ½ the cheese. Cover with remaining rice, tomato mixture and cheese. Bake for 20-30 minutes, let cool slightly and serve.
Well, I have to say that, without having tried Bayless's version, this one is solidly good. The creaminess of the arborio, I think, helped actually. My only problem was that I had no 8"x8" pan so this went into my larger cast iron skillet, so the dish was flatter and more spread-out. But, no sticking, no problem. In this moment of health concerns with teflon, I should be using the cast iron more.