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Dog Days

It has not rained in Portland, Oregon for over 30 days. We are nearing record-setting moments around here. It's Oregon for goodness sake. Not Arizona. Why isn't it raining? It is seriously difficult to wrap our organic-farmer-market-liberal-arts-educated minds around this weather conundrum. Without rain, we Oregonians must resort to irrigation and - worst of all - dusting.

Along with most of you, we are left with basil that is about to bolt, zucchini overtly left on neighborhood porches and - blessedly - gifted with firm vine-ripened Early Girl tomatoes. In Oregon we have a very short growing season for tomatoes and are too often left with only the green variety. Not this year. This year, Oregonians are blessed with berries, herbs, bulbs, flowers, tomatoes and corn like we have not seen in years. And potatoes. Think what you will of Idaho potatoes, but you haven't lived until you have dined on a buttery Oregon fingerling potato.

Beer drinkers will be happy to learn Oregon's hop crop is off-the-charts as well.

Go, Oregon!

Go, beer!

A few weeks ago, Deb Perelman - of Smitten Kitchen fame - posted a recipe for a rice casserole using tomatoes and zucchini. The Lovely Lisa has truly become a fan of Smitten Kitchen because of this and is preparing Perelman's rice dish this week. I also wanted to prepare the rice dish this week, but did I ever tell you I am very lazy? I could not figure why I should cook the rice separately and use it in the recipe when I use uncooked rice so easily in several recipes - like my Arroz con Pollo.

Did I mention I am lazy? Did I mention I usually cook in a 5-foot RV kitchen?

My recipe uses much of Deb's recipe - but no eggs - and is RV-easy/friendly as the cooking-the-rice-before step is skipped. Use an 8x8-inch pan (that can be covered with foil) or a small, covered baking dish. This recipe is perfect to use your late season vegetable garden bounty - tomatoes, zucchini and basil. Watch the salt in this casserole: there could be a lot of salt in the veggie or chicken stock and parmesan cheese is quite salty. (PS: If you are not familiar with these wonderful little one-cup packages of soup stocks, please try them soon. From Pacific Foods in Oregon - the broths are available by the quart, or in a 4-pack. Super convenient and the containers are recyclable!)

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for oiling the baking dish)
Half of a medium yellow onion, chopped fine (about ½ cup)
1 clove garlic, minced fine
½ cup long grain white rice
2 Tablespoons freshly minced basil leaves (plus more for garnish, if desired)
½ teaspoon Kosher salt (if desired)
Black pepper, to taste
1 cup vegetable broth (or chicken stock or water) (I used vegetable stock)
1 medium zucchini squash, sliced into 1/3-inch rounds
1 large ripe tomato, sliced into 1/3-inch rounds
½ cup parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated (about 1 ounce)

Heat the oven to 375°. Oil an 8x8-inch baking dish (that can be covered with foil) or a small covered baking dish. Heat a small frying pan over a medium-low flame and coat the skillet bottom with olive oil. Saute the minced onion and garlic for about five minutes until soft. Add the uncooked rice and stir to coat the rice completely with oil, one minute. Toss in the minced basil and season with salt and pepper, as desired.

Pour this rice and onion mixture into the prepared baking dish. Spread the rice mixture evenly to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Pour one cup of veggie or chicken stock evenly over the rice mixture at the bottom of the baking dish.

Lay the cut slices of zucchini evenly over the rice/stock layer, over-lapping if necessary. Place the sliced tomatoes evenly over the zucchini layer. Cover the baking dish and bake at 375° for thirty minutes. Remove from oven. Remove the lid/foil and sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the half-baked casserole. Return the casserole to the oven to bake, uncovered, for 10-15 additional minutes or until the cheese has browned and the casserole is bubbling at edges. Remove from oven. Let rest five minutes. Garnish with additional basil chiffonade, if desired, and serve.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

So yummy!

Until my next update, I remain, your step-saving correspondent.