The single item of food I requested most often when I was akid was Rice-A-Roni (boxed rice pilaf). In an effort to create aversion that matches its salty, savory flavor without any of the ingredients I don’t recognize on the package, I worked on this recipe for a long time to nail a crowd-pleasing result.There are two small victories here. The first is when you break the spaghetti into small pieces, do yourself an enormous favor and put it into a zip-top plastic bag before you break it so that the pasta doesn’t fly all over your kitchen (I figured this out the hard way). The second is roasting shredded cabbage until it almost, but not quite,burns—it makes the cabbage remarkably crunchy and gives the pilaf a pleasing slow-cooked flavor (not to mention beautiful color). This cabbage is so good that I often serve it on its own as a side dish—that is, if it even makes it to a serving bowl, as I have a tendency to eat it straight out of the pan. If you’re averse to gluten, you can either leave out the pasta or use gluten-free spaghetti.
4 cups [300 g] finely shredded red cabbage
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup [35 g] 1-in [2.5-cm] pieces of spaghetti or angel hair
pasta1 cup [200 g] long-grain white rice13/4 cups [420 ml] chicken stock or water
Pinch of saffron threads (optional)
Preheat your oven to 425°F [220°C]. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put the cabbage on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle with2 Tbsp of the olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt, and use your hands to toss everything together. Spread the cabbage over the surface of the baking sheet. Roast the cabbage,stirring it every so often, for longer than you think you should, until it’s quite shriveled and crispy and on the very thin line between dark red and burnt, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and the butter. Add the pasta and rice and cook, stirring, until the pasta turns golden brown,the rice turns opaque, and everything smells toasty and vaguely nutty, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp salt, the stock,and saffron (if using) and bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer until the rice just loses its starchy bite and the liquid has completely evaporated, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your brand of rice.
Put a paper towel between the pan and the lid and set aside for 10 minutes to rest. The paper towel will absorb excess liquid from the residual steam and leave you with the fluffiest rice.
Once the pilaf has rested, uncover it and fluff with a fork. If your saucepan is large enough, add the reserved cabbage to the pilaf, stir everything together, and then transfer to aserving bowl. If your pan isn’t large enough, simply transfer both the pilaf and the cabbage to a large serving bowl, stir,and season to taste with salt. Serve immediately.
FOR BROWN RICE PILAF, substitute long-grain brown rice for the white rice and increase the liquid to 21/2 cups[600 ml]. Keep everything else the same, or feel free to swap the cabbage for roasted mushrooms . The cooking time will be more like 40 minutes.
FOR MUJADARA, the Middle Eastern equivalent of rice and beans, swap the roasted cabbage for caramelized onions) and fold in cooked brown or green lentils at the end, too. Serve with garlicky yogurt.
FOR TOMATO SOUP RICE, use 1 cup [240 ml] tomato soup and 1 cup [240 ml] water or stock. Serve with grated cheese (cheddar or Parmesan work well) on top.