When the dog has bitten, when the bee has stung, when the glass pitcher of milk has spilled and shattered into a mind-numbing gazillion shards all over a just cleaned floor, when your beloved and aging family pooch just can’t seem to keep his dinner down for the upteenth time, and when your kids fight over – get this – a headband…a HEADBAND… as though they were competing for the last drop of water while marooned out at sea for 8 days…
THAT’s when you need this dish.
Each forkful of this decadently creamy and tomato-y dish helps wipe away the frustrations of the day, without needing to revert back to being a baby in your mother’s arms and then having – good Lord! – to relive high school again.
And a nice chewy glass of red wine to wash it all down doesn’t hurt either.
Before you know it, you feel ready to wipe up spilled milk again. Or negotiate headband usage.
And speaking of being a child again…and I realize that these may perhaps be fightin’ words, but I dare you to find a child, any child, who will not go absolutely gugu gaga over this dish!
I serve it with meatballs that have been generously dolloped with tomato sauce and Parmigiano. Then, I watch the whole thing disappear in what seems like a second.
making tomato rice bake
To prepare, cook 16 oz. (2 ½ cups) of Arborio rice.
You can regular white rice for this dish, but I find Arborio gives a meatier, more satisfying and chewier texture. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt. Add the rice and mix with a wooden spoon for the first minute or so to prevent the kernels from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the kernels are soft yet still firm. Quickly drain them and transfer to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of butter, mix well, and set aside.
Have 4 cups of tomato sauce, preferably onion-based and without garlic, and 2 ½ cups 0f béchamel sauce on hand. While this dish is a cinch to put together, it does require preparing two different types of (super easy!) sauces. Spreading out the work over a couple of days takes this potentially daunting aspect out of it. I usually divvy it up by making the tomato sauce two days ahead and the béchamel sauce one day ahead. Then it’s truly a breeze to boil the rice and put the whole thing together.
Ladle a half cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish and, with a spoon or spatula, make sure to cover all sides with a coating of the sauce.
Spoon half the rice mixture on the bottom of the baking dish, making sure to create an even surface.
Spoon out 1 more cup of béchamel sauce and spread out uniformly across entire surface.
Cover with remaining rice.
Place dish in the oven and lower the temperature to 375° F. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a nice crust has developed on the surface. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Makes 10 servings.