Rhonda’s Rice And Broccoli Casserole

This is a recipe from Kansas, a statement which you might want to interpret as a gourmet alert. The ingredients include Velveeta. But though I hate to admit it, in spite of that this recipe makes a delicious side dish.

Rhonda, the wife of one of Jerri’s cousins, contributed the recipe to a cookbook compiled by the Farm Bureau Women of Butler County, Kansas. As I have mentioned elsewhere, my mother-in-law gave us the cookbook for Christmas many years ago, and Jerri has made many of the recipes. Some have become favorites, like “Betty Stucky’s Raisin Bars,” and this one from Rhonda is going to be added to the list.

When I warmed up the leftover casserole to go with the hot dogs and pasta salad we set out to feed my brother-in-law and his work crew at the cabin, he remarked how well the broccoli went with the rice as he took a second helping. It is indeed a tasty combination.

When I confessed that the sauce was made with canned soups and Velveeta, he guffawed and asked me if I finally was abandoning my purist policies.

One of his grandsons and a member of the work crew looked puzzled. “What’s Velveeta?” he asked.

“It’s like American cheese, like the single slices you get on cheeseburgers,” I said, “but it comes in a box.” I got the box out to show him.

“It’s a brand name,” my brother-in-law explained to him.

“OK,” said he, and took a serving.

I can remember the box of Velveeta in the refrigerator at home. Like Rhonda, Mom used it in cooking because it made really smooth sauces. Velveeta was invented in 1923 in Monroe, New York, and was named for its velvety smooth texture. It is a dairy product, so even Wisconsinites can admit to using it without shame. It is not, however, to be confused with a good Wisconsin brick, Cheddar or Colby.

When Jerri and I were first married, most Kansas supermarkets offered Velveeta, ground Parmesan, and a handful of other cheeses, nearly all from Kraft. Last summer, when we stopped at Emporia, Kansas, to stock up on the best flour I know (Hudson Cream), I made a point of inspecting the cheese case.

There were probably a hundred different varieties and brands of cheese made by cheese makers from Oregon to Vermont as well as Wisconsin, an enormous improvement in the last four decades. I almost felt like I had wandered into a good Wisconsin supermarket.

Velveeta was still in the cheese case, but my attitude towards it had changed. Even the ancient Romans used some processed foods including fish sauces and cheeses flavored with garlic or sweetened with honey as well as salted cheeses shipped to Rome from across the empire, perhaps to be eaten with the hams imported from Belgium. We have chemists today to make fancier processed foods, but maybe that’s just progress.

Even without scientists, our ancestors were pretty clever when it came to inventing new foods. For instance, yogurt, tofu and most of the cheeses we enjoy today have been around for thousands of years. What I finally have come to understand is that Velveeta is really just another in the long list of foods that start with milk. Not my favorite to eat on crackers, but a good ingredient in some recipes.

Like Rhonda’s Rice and Broccoli Casserole which makes six to eight servings of a delicious side dish.

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup white rice
1 1/2 cups water
Scant 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 lbs. broccoli crowns
4 T butter
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 lb. Velveeta cheese

PROCEDURE:

Rinse the rice, then put it in a saucepan with the water and salt. Bring to a boil, then stir and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook the rice covered for fifteen to twenty minutes until the water is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat.

Prepare the vegetables while the rice is cooking. Wash the broccoli, discard the tough bottom part of the stems and divide the crowns into bite-sized pieces. Clean and chop the celery and onion into a quarter to half-inch dice.

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Blanch the broccoli in a microwave oven or covered saucepan with a little water for four or five minutes until it is crisp but tender. Drain and set aside the broccoli. Cut the Velveeta into half inch cubes.

Melt the butter in a two quart saucepan over low heat. Add the celery and onion and cook them for about four minutes until they are soft. Add the undiluted soups and Velveeta and stir until you have a smooth sauce. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Spread the cooked rice evenly over the bottom of a two quart baking dish. Spread the broccoli on the rice and spoon the sauce over the broccoli. Put the dish on a center shelf in the oven and bake the casserole for about thirty minutes until the rice is bubbling around the edges and the sauce is just beginning to brown.

NOTES: Rhonda’s recipe calls for two ten ounce packages of frozen broccoli spears and butter or margarine. I prefer butter and fresh broccoli when you can get it.