Southern Rice Breakfast Bowls

Did you hear that?
That universal cry of happiness and joy?
Here in Southern Virginia snow-days that actually count are rare and beautiful creatures. I love my state with everything that is in me and proudly declare to anyone who will listen (and even those who won't) that it's the best out of all fifty. But it does lack the quintessential white winter palette. Except that almost every year for one glorious day or two, the weather obliges. Then comes snow and more snow like down comforters being shaken over the land and suddenly a girl remembers she doesn't own a single pair of waterproof shoes. If you're like me in that way, you'll just shove your feet into your father's extra boots and put on extra socks to make up the extra room. People shuffle in deep snow anyway – it's just done.

This past weekend a grand ten inches of the fluffiest, puffiest flakes dumped on us and made getting out for anything – work, church, groceries – not just inadvisable but pretty impossible. Being the sort of person who is on the go all the time, I like being snowed in. I like the decision to not go out being made for me by happy circumstances out of my control. To celebrate this once-annual event I braved the masses beforehand, grabbed the essential groceries, and re-built my favorite brunch place's “Southern Rice Bowl.”

The secret haven of the brunch crowd is found at Commune, a plant-centric restaurant in Virginia Beach. This place is pretty fantastic. Their sourdough croissants are so flaky the outer layer shatters like glass and the flavor combination of their main dishes are pretty ingenious. Not to mention 95% of the ingredients used are locally sourced or even grown in their backyard garden. I want to meet the executive chef and get the scoop on his flavor instincts because they're pretty legitimate. Commune's food is so good that I've fallen into the bad habit of ruining my friends' lives with it; the food is that stellar. So taking the memory of two separate occasions on which I had the Southern Rice Bowl and trying to recreate it accurately for a snow-day brunch at home was a little comical. How on earth do you match culinary flavor genius as an amateur? I sat there remembering the taste and smell of this delicious, protein-packed bowl and blindly felt my way forward through the root vegetables, the sausage, the egg, the mustard, the greens, and finally to the rice itself. Commune uses a mixture of rice and barley while I opted for wild rice. And not just any rice – the creamiest, most non-sticky, most delicious rice you've ever met with in your life. But how was it prepared and with what flavors? The magic of Commune's dishes are the fact that you don't know what you're tasting but you know it's magical. I found my answer to the rice dilemma in Julia Child's described method for the French way to make a risotto. Gosh, I love Julia Child. Her wording is hilarious and kooky sometimes, as with part of the instructions in this recipe:
“...stir over moderate heat for 2 minutes to impregnate with the butter.”

With a little tweaking and a lot of hope, I followed the steps (including impregnating the rice with butter), grated some peccorino romano into the finished product and took a taste: gold medal. From here it was a victory lap through roasting a pan of parsnips, radishes, and sweet potatoes to assembling the bowls: one easy-over egg, one thick patty of perfectly browned, home-grown sausage from Dad's pigs, a generous dollop of coarse mustard, the finishing garnish of young, fresh greens. And there we had it: an approximate version of one of the heartiest, most healthy-and-filling brunch foods. The kind of food you want on a day when temps are in the low realm of “above zero.” Maybe the flavor combinations weren't my idea, maybe I'll still never meet the imagination level of the man who makes Commune's magic, but at least I can imitate his craftsmanship! Set aside whatever other brunch plans you'd made for next weekend and try this handsome fella.

Southern Rice Bowl
makes four large bowls
for the risotto:
1 ½ cups wild rice blend
3 qts boiling water
1 ½ Tablespoons sea salt
4 Tablespoons of butter
1 Tbs. each finely minced onions and celery
A 2 ½ qt. casserole dish with cover
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper
3 Tablespoons freshly grated hard cheese such as peccorino romano

for roasted root vegetables:
1 bunch red radishes, chopped
1 large parsnip peeled and chopped
1 small sweet potato peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper

for toppings:
4 large patties good sausage, browned in skillet
4 eggs, cooked over-easy
4 Tablespoons very coarsely ground mustard thinned out with a little mild vinegar
1 small head baby frisee lettuce
1 large handful clover sprouts

Preparing the risotto:
  1. In a large pot on the stove, bring water and 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt to a boil. Boil for five minutes, then drain. In a large skillet on the stove melt butter and saute onions and celery for two minutes. Add drained rice and “impregnate” it with the flavors of the butter.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and warm casserole dish inside. Pour rice, onions, and celery into the dish and add broth, bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Bake in oven for 34-40 minutes until the rice has absorbed the broth. Fluff with a fork, then add grated cheese.
Preparing the roasted root veggies:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Toss chopped veggies with olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until nicely browned. Shake trays once or twice while cooking to shift vegetables.
Assembling bowls:

  1. Throw some rice in the bottom of the bowl and top with roasted veggies, a generous Tablespoon of the mustard, the sausage, egg, and greens.
  2. Grate a little more peccorino over-top if desired, and serve immediately.

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