Saffron Rice Bake with Snow Peas, Zucchini & Mint + Tomato & Apricot Relish
Rice- there is almost nothing you can't do with it. Sweet, savory, mild or spicy, rice is a wonderful and versatile food indeed. You can prepare an Asian fried rice dish, an Italian risotto, or a creamy rice pudding, but one thing is for sure- you can always come up with something wonderful with rice!
This evening, I wanted to try a little experiment. I had seen lots of recipes online for baked, "loaf-like" rice dishes, but had neither tasted nor prepared one myself... and I thought I would see what I could come up with. Armed only with a couple of vegetables, and a healthy apetite, I came up with this little dish here... and I hope you all enjoy it!
I started off by boiling my rice, flavored with a good sprinkle of saffron in my rice cooker. Whilst the rice cooked, I took a frying pan and set about gently sautéeing the zucchini, cut into slices together with the snow peas. I added a little olive oil, lemon zest, mint, crushed garlic and seasoned with salt, pepper and a little seasoned salt.
Next step was to soak a couple of those Chinese "rice-paper" spring roll wrappers. Simply soak them in cold water for 3-4 minutes until soft. From past experience, I know that they become VERY sticky- so to avoid this, I rubbed olive oil, inside and out onto my baking dish. I then took the rice paper and laid it over the dish, allowing it to overlap on each side a good 2-3 inches- hence the need to grease the dish well... otherwise it would stick and be very difficult to work with.
I filled a layer of rice into the dish and then laid a layer of zucchini slices on top. I seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg and then covered that with another layer of rice. Next came the layer with the peas, again a little bit more seasoning and then a final layer of rice to conceal that too. I folded the overlapping rice paper over the top, so that the whole dish was enclosed. Finally, I pressed down firmly on the rice to make it nice and compact and popped it into a pre-heated oven at 350°F for 45 minutes.
Whilst the rice was baking, I made the relish, which was also very simple, I diced cherry tomatoes and apricots in equal amounts, added a little chopped Spring onion and a nice scattering of fresh oregano leaves. I added a little olive oil, a shot of tabasco, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar... and that was that!
After 45 minutes in the oven, turn on the broiler to get it nicely golden brown for 2-3 minutes. The rice paper should have become very crispy by then and all you need to do is to turn the "rice-loaf" of sorts out and to cut it into portions. Serve with the relish and a chilled glass of white wine and enjoy! Buon apetito!