As I’ve mentioned here before, I was a vegetarian for seven years, from the age of 14 until sometime during my 21st year. My parents were supportive, though Mom’s rule was that she was still going to make one thing for dinner, and if I couldn’t cobble together enough of a meal for myself from what she was serving, I’d have to do my own cooking. I guess it makes sense that I really started to develop my kitchen skills during that time.
I got myself a copy of the Moosewood cookbook, of course, but the book that some of my favorite recipes came from was Diet for a Small Planet. There was a casserole in there that I absolutely loved, and for a while I think I made it weekly. It was great fresh from the oven, but just as tasty at room temp for a meal on the fly, and it combined favorite foods like rice and cheese with the exotic-to-me-then Swiss chard, which would become one of my staples.
Heidi’s recent post about her favorite mushroom casserole reminded me of that recipe, and though my well-worn copy of Diet has long since disappeared, I thought I’d improvise, combining elements of that old casserole recipe with some from Heidi’s dish. Besides, I had a big bag of beautiful Wishing Stone mushrooms just begging to be used up, and mushrooms and chard are one of my favorite pairings.
I stemmed the mushrooms and chopped both stems and caps into chunky pieces, then sautéed them in a mix of butter and olive oil until they were browned and tender, adding a bit of salt and dried marjoram for seasoning. When the mushrooms were nearly done, I added my chard, cooking the thinly sliced stems for a few minutes first before adding the shredded leafy ends.
I wanted something a little heartier than rice as the base for the dish, so I cooked up about a cup of pearled barley until it was tender but slightly underdone. I wasn’t quite sure what to do about the creamy base, since we had neither cottage cheese nor sour cream in the fridge, so I added 8 oz. of cream cheese into the still-warm barley, along with an egg beaten with about a half-cup of heavy cream. I added a cup or so of really sharp cheddar, grated, reserving a bit more for the top of the casserole. I folded everything together until the cream cheese was melted and the mixture well combined, then set it aside.
At this point I added the creamy barley mixture to the mushrooms and chard, and stirred until the veggies were pretty evenly distributed throughout. I figured I’d bake the whole thing right in the iron skillet I had cooked the veggies in, so I smoothed out the top, sprinkled on the remainder of my grated cheddar, gave it a dusting of freshly grated parm for good measure, then covered it with foil and put it in the oven. I baked it at 400 for 20 minutes or so, then removed the foil and let it go for another 10. We had a simple salad of tender young leaves on the side with a perky Meyer lemon vinaigrette, which complemented the earthy casserole nicely.