This dish has completely disappeared from the culinary repertoire in the Lowcountry, although the Carolina Rice Cook Book of 1901 included 13 recipes. A dish that probably came to the Lowcountry from France, the pie, or rice casserole as it is sometimes called, consists of twice-cooked rice that serves as the shell for a ragout. Rice is boiled until very soft, pressed into a greased pan, cooked again until it forms a golden crust, then turned out and filled with a savory pie filling such as chicken, lamb, or veal.

It is an endearing form of rice cookery, and I hope the simple recipe here for a vegetable pie will help revive the technique both in the Lowcountry and elsewhere. Serve this pie as the main dish to your vegetarian friends or as both ballast and vegetable with roast chicken or pork. You will need to begin this recipe several hours, or a day, in advance.

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Ingredients

For the Vegetable Stock

  • 1 large leek, dark green part only, well rinsed and chopped (about 2 cups loosely packed)
  • feathery greens and upper stalks from 3 medium fennel bulbs, cut up (about 2 cups loosely packed)
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, cut up (about 1 cup)
  • 2 celery ribs, cut up (about 1 cup)
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon Herbal Mix or 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning plus a few black peppercorns
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed with the flat side of a knife
  • 6 cups water

For the Rice Pie Shell

  • 4 cups long-grain white rice
  • 10 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the Fricassee of Vegetables

  • ¾ pound fresh mushrooms
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, well rinsed and finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
  • 3 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed of the bottom cores and stalks and cut into small wedges
  • 1 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash, diced (about cups)
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes or 1 small can (14½ ounces) peeled tomatoes, drained, seeded, and chopped
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper, and chopped fresh herbs to taste

Method

To make the stock, bring all of the ingredients to a boil in a heavy saucepan, reduce the heat, and cook, uncovered, at a low boil for 1 hour. Strain the stock well, pressing as much flavor out of the vegetables as possible. You should have about cups.

To make the rice pie shell, place the rice, water, and salt in a Dutch oven or an ovenproof deep saucepan. Boil the rice in the salted water, uncovered, until it is very tender and soft, about 30 minutes. Place a colander over a bowl and dump the rice out into the colander to drain. (Save the starchy liquid that drains from the rice; it’s a perfect soup and sauce thickener. ) Fill the saucepan with cold water and let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse it out, scraping up any stray bits of rice. Wipe the pot dry, then put the butter in the pan over low heat to melt. Preheat the oven to 425°. When the butter has begun to melt, remove from the heat. Use a pastry brush to paint the butter over the inside of the pan. When the rice is dry, return it to the greased saucepan and press the rice down evenly into the pot. Place in the oven for about an hour while you prepare the filling.

To make the fricassee, stem the mushrooms and add the stems to the reserved vegetable stock and the wine in a heavy saucepan. Cook the mixture at a low boil, uncovered, for 15 minutes. In the meantime, chop the mushroom caps and heat the butter in a heavy, wide, straight-sided sauté pan over low heat. Add the mushrooms and leeks and sauté until the leeks are almost transparent and almost all of the water has cooked out of the mushrooms, about 10 minutes. Remove the mixture to a platter and set aside. Strain the stock into the pan in which the mushrooms were cooked. Discard the stems.

Reheat the stock to a boil, add the carrots, and cook, uncovered, at a low boil for 10 to 15 minutes, until they just become soft and begin to lose their raw flavor. Remove them from the stock with a slotted spoon and place them on the platter with the mushrooms and leeks. Add the fennel wedges to the boiling stock and simmer for about 3 minutes; then add the squash pieces and simmer for another 3 minutes, stirring often since most of the liquid will have evaporated at this point. Remove the vegetables to the platter. Add the cream to the pan, whisking it in and allowing it to boil until it has reduced to just shy of a thick sauce, about 10 minutes. (The cream will appear to be all bubbles at this point.) Turn the heat to low, then add the tomatoes and the vegetable mixture from the platter. Correct the seasoning with salt, pepper, and the herbs of your choice.

To assemble the pie, remove the rice from the oven. It should have formed a golden crust where it touches the pan. Turn the rice out onto a platter, cut off a lid from the “pie,” and scoop out some rice from the center to form a well for the vegetables. Check the fricassee to see if it is thickened to your liking. If not, turn up the heat and reduce one last time. Pour the vegetable filling into the rice pie and serve at once.

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