Tuesday, August 9, 2011
We’ve just celebrated the Transfiguration of Our Lord, which, given its profundity, bears repeating.
Jesus beckons Peter, John and James to ascend the mountain to pray (which tradition says is Mt. Tabor). And while our Lord was praying, He was transfigured, that is, he experienced a metamorphosis (according to the Greek) that changed His face and made his clothes ‘dazzling white’. Peter, John and James also saw Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. St. Peter, zealous as usual, wants to build a tent to capture the moment. But a cloud surrounds them and a voice from above says ‘This is my son, LISTEN TO HIM’.
Now this singular event in Our Lord’s life is nothing less than the divine confirmation of Jesus’ messiahship and the full affirmation that this Jesus was indeed He who would deliver the world from sin, bondage and even the sting of death. So amazing was this miracle that St. Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant scholastic theologian of the thirteenth century, considered it the ‘greatest miracle’ of the Jesus’ earthly life, especially inasmuch it foreshadowed the Blessed vision of heaven given to all children of God at Baptism. He devoted no less than four chapters of his Summa to unpacking its meaning. Furthermore, this miracle – this Transfiguration of Our Lord – is a way for us to be reminded of the full glory of God revealed in Christ. And that reality - beholding the Christ - is the only thing that matters, friends.
But that's not all I have to say about transfiguration. Actually, while I was pondering this miracle, my mind quickly wandered into the realm of gastronomy and what I could do to transfigure, that is, transform and enhance a few things here and there. The first thing that came to my mind was the sad state of a popular side dish: steamed wild rice, which, if you share the plight of many, desperately needs transfiguring.
Where I grew up (i.e., in the South) when most people mentioned wild rice, they meant something that came in an Uncle Ben’s box (yikes!). Now, without offending dear ole Ben too much and thereby subverting my superior Southern roots - where I surely had my fill of the boxed stuff - I have to remind us that Ben’s varietal is a far cry from genuine wild rice and what it really can be. And believe it or not, Yankees really know how to grow and cook wild rice. But in true paradoxical fashion, it was a Southern belle who gave me this recipe many years ago, and it has ever since transfigured my thinking on the subject of wild rice.
Actually, Ben’s version isn’t wild rice at all; it’s simply white rice with some spices to give it colouring. And I suppose that’s fine if you want salty white rice with some colouring. But if you’re looking to transfigure, by which I mean, transform, your notion of wild rice, try this old favourite.
Yankee Wild Rice Au Gratin
¾ lb. real wild rice (Roland grade ‘A’ from Minnesota is the best and can be purchased on Amazon in 1lb. increments)
1 ½ cup chopped sweet onion
1 ½ cup chopped celery
1 stick of unsalted butter
½ lb. grated sharp cheddar cheese
¼ lb. grated Grana Padano
1 lb. sliced fresh button mushrooms
1 cup half and half
4 cups chicken broth
Cook rice in broth until tender. Drain and rinse well and set aside to cool. Sauté onion and celery in butter over medium-high heat till tender. Mix all ingredients but half and half and Grana Padano and place in a gratin dish (I prefer Apilco bakeware, which is readily available at Williams-Sonoma). Sprinkle Grana Padano on top and pour the half and half evenly over the mixture. Bake at 350 degrres for 45 minutes or until the liquid has been absorped into the rice mixture. You may wish to broil the top for the last two minutes of the baking time to give a nice crisp texture to the outer layer of the dish.
This dish can be assembled twenty-four hours before you plan to cook it; just refrain from adding the half and half and store in the fridge. This dish also freezes well – again, leave out the half and half until you’re ready to bake.