Six degrees of Julia: Zucchini rice casserole

The theory that any two people on earth can be connected within six steps works in the restaurant world as well as in show biz. Using this equation, I’m connected to Julia Child by two degrees of separation. My old bosses, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken cooked with Julia and I cooked with them.

In the early 1980s, “the girls” were on a panel moderated by Julia Child and stayed in the same hotel with her and her husband, Paul. Several years later Julia paid a visit to City Cafe, Mary Sue and Susan’s eleven-table restaurant on Melrose in LA. In order to reach the restrooms customers had to pass through the kitchen, so SF/MSM urged the staff to refill Julia’s water glass frequently.

Susan Feniger, from an article in the LA Weekly:

“Julia crammed her 6’2” frame into our postage stamp-sized kitchen (banging her head on a hanging pan in the process) just to see what we were doing. In the early 1990s, she asked us to appear on PBS’s, “Cooking with the Master Chefs.” We cooked with Julia on her show, drank with Julia at her hotel, ate and drank some more with Julia at the Border Grill, and generally tried to keep up with her tireless energy, which we never could! She out-drank, out-cooked, and out-lasted all of us younger chefs, and was still able to show up on set bright and early at 5am, ready to go. Her eager mind was never bored, never idle, and even on breaks from filming the TV segments, she was constantly typing, making notes, or playing with the dog. The woman never stopped. She was kind, always wanting to know how you were, what you were doing, from the first time I met her 28 years ago to the last time I saw her a year before she passed away. I felt lucky to have known her and blessed to have cooked with her.”

Anyways, last week I bought too many zucchini at TJs and remembered Julia Childs’ zucchini rice casserole (in French it’s Tian de Courgettes au Riz). I made it during my 1970s Julia Child phase—it’s cheap, fairly easy, and quite tasty. This is my tweaked version but if you want or need the real thing, her recipe is on page 371 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two.

Zucchini rice casserole, serves 4

  • 2 small to medium zucchinis
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cooked white rice
  • 1/2 medium onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 large cloves garlic, mashed or finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup hot liquid—zucchini juice and as much milk or broth as necessary
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter for dish

Heat oven to 425°.

Wash zucchini and trim ends. Coarsely grate and place in a colander set over a bowl. Toss with kosher salt. Let drain for 30 minutes. Save the drained liquid and squeeze a handful of the zucchini and taste. If it’s very salty, rinse and drain it again (not saving liquid this time). Squeeze all of the zucchini in handfuls collecting any juices in the bowl of drained liquid. Blot zucchini dry on paper towels.

I used 1/2 cup cooked, leftover rice but in Julia’s recipe, 1/4 cup of rice is boiled for exactly 5 minutes in salted water, drained, and set aside to use.

Cook the onions slowly in 1 tablespoons oil for 8 to 10 minutes until tender and translucent. Raise heat slightly and stir several minutes until very lightly browned. Stir in the grated and dried zucchini and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Toss and turn for 5 to 6 minutes until the zucchini is almost tender. Sprinkle in the flour, stir over moderate heat for 2 minutes, and remove from heat.

Measure the drained liquid from the zucchini. If you have less than 1 cup, add milk or broth to bring up the level.

Stir into zucchini-onion mixture, return pan to stove over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring. Remove from heat again, stir in rice and all but 1 tablespoon cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Turn into a baking dish. Sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot top with butter.

Bake in upper third of oven until bubbling and browned on top, about 25 to 30 minutes.

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One Response to Six degrees of Julia: Zucchini rice casserole

  1. Lara says:

    These are such great stories–thanks for sharing them!

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