As an Eighties Baby brought up on Campbell’s soup, cream cheese smeared onto ritz crackers, pans of enchiladas, and grains from a box, I got to know Rice-A-Roni the “San Francisco Treat” long before I ever dared to dream of living here. So, when I read the headnote for this Roasted Red Cabbage Rice Pilaf in Turshen’s Small Victories about it being her tribute to the dish that married my childhood memories and current abode, I needed no further convincing to run out and buy the ingredients to make it.
But before getting down to business, I hit a tangent (typical). First, I had a hard hitting question to answer, which is “what the hell even is Rice-A-Roni and how did it become the so-called San Francisco Treat?” Clearly it’s right up there with “will rent prices ever go down?” and “what tactics make the most sense for resourcing our homeless residents?” Clearly.
Luckily for us, the Rice-A-Roni website herself has the full scoop. Picture this - it was 1890, and young Domenico DeDomenico travelled to the States from Italy at the ripe old age of 19. Upon entering the country, the immigration officer misunderstood his name as “Charlie.” [Timeout. But like, how though?] Being the good sport that he was, Dom DeDom decided to roll with it (unlike yours truly, who corrects people that don’t spell my name with an H), and five years later “Charlie” moved to California to open up a produce store in the Mission District of that City by the Bay.
Over the next decade he added three more stores, and in 1912, he and his wife opened a pasta factory. Their four sons also joined the business, and ended up playing an instrumental role in its success. At the suggestion of son Paskey, the company was renamed Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Son Vince is credited with creating the first Rice-a-Roni product in 1958, when, inspired by an Armenian-style pilaf, he combined both rice and pasta in a box with dry seasoning mix. The rest, as you know, is history.
As for Turshen’s tribute? I like it better. To the surprise of exactly no one, I’m sure, because Turshen makes food with love, which is both the object of my (and this blog’s) obsession and something you could never get straight from a box. Aside from that, veggie-fying a traditional grain dish is a genius move IMO. I live to make a vegetable-forward meal that doesn’t distract from flavor with it’s earnestness.
And the roasted red cabbage definitely steals the show. Even the saddest, forgotten and half-dead chunks of cabbage that have moped around unnoticed in my fridge for weeks crisp up dutifully when roasted at high heat, taking on a smokey fragrance and surprising depth of flavor. This dish is a favorite party trick of mine too, that I’ve served with this chicken and this lemon fish to equal amounts of oohs and ahhs. (Steamed green beans on the side are a definitie, btw.)
Truth be told, I might even be more into eating the roasted red cabbage solo at the moment. Which reminds me - good news for any grain-free folks following along - I have a Whole 30/Keto-friendly version of this recipe up next and it is BOMB. Yes, really! Hopefully you’ll find one or both of them as dreamy as we do.
Roasted Red Cabbage Pilaf, from Small Victories by Julia Turshen
4 cups [300g] finely shredded red cabbage, about half a medium-sized head
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup [35g] of broken spaghetti or angel hair pasta
1 cup [200g] long-grain rice
1 ¾ cups [420ml] chicken stock or water
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pile the cabbage on top. Drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil, sprinkle with ½ tsp salt, and toss everything together using your hands. Spread the cabbage out over the surface of the baking sheet.
Roast the cabbage for about 30 to 35 mins, checking in 10-minute increments to redistribute the cabbage shreds so that they brown evenly; the ones around the outside will cook much faster than those in the middle of the pan. The cabbage is done when all shreds have shriveled down to a crisp, and many are riding the line between dark purple and burnt. Set aside.
While the cabbage is cooking, begin preparing the rice. In a large saucepan or braiser, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the butter. Add the pasta and rice and stir to make sure all the grains are well coated. Saute until the pasta turns golden brown, the rice is opaque, and everything smells toasty and a little nutty, about 5 mins. (Learn from my mistakes and try to avoid walking away. Everytime I did it almost burnt, and once it burned so badly that I had to start over.) Add 1 tsp salt, the stock or water, and bring the mixture to a rapid simmer, then turn down the heat to low, cover the pan, and gently simmer until the rice just loses its starchy bite and the liquid has completely evaporated. This should take 10 to 15 minutes depending on your brand of rice.
Remove the pan from heat and put a paper towel between the pan and the lid, stretched tight, and set aside for 10 minutes to rest. The paper towel will absorb excess liquid from the residual steam and make the rice extra fluffy.
Once the pilaf has rested, uncover it and fluff with a fork. Add the reserved roasted cabbage to the pilaf and stir everything together. Serve immediately.