Cajun Casserole

My mom decided to stop buying deli meats for my dad’s daily sandwich ritual because of all the nitrates in the options at the grocery store. I casually suggested roasting some turkey breast ourselves rather than relegating him to an interminable future of tunafish, egg salad, and peanut butter, and before I knew it, there was a bone-in turkey breast the size of a whole chicken waiting for my attention in the fridge.

I’ve never cooked a turkey breast separate from the rest of the turkey before, so naturally my top priority was… figuring out how to incorporate yet more zucchini into the meal. I hadn’t done a squash gratin yet this year, so I considered French versions (too gloppy) and Italian ones (too tomatoey), before settling on a Cajun version that was full of rice and bacon. Cajun zucchini casserole meant Cajun turkey, which I roasted very simply in the oven at 350F for 2 hours (it was a 5.5 lb bone-in cut), massaged first with a mixture of softened butter and Cajun spice blend. As the turkey went in the oven, I kneaded up some whole wheat yogurt bread dough and threw it in the dehydrator to proof; the loaf was ready to bake when the casserole went in, which saved heat and energy by letting the oven do triple duty.

While everything else was taking care of itself, I used the last few minutes to grill some corn on the cob. My mom got these three local ears from a friend of hers a few days before, so they needed to be eaten up. I slathered them with a compound butter flavored with honey, salt, and more Cajun spices, tied back the husks to make handles, and threw them on my enameled cast iron grill pan. You won’t get the full effect of the photo unless you also imagine my mom complaining about the amount of smoke pouring off the stovetop and how it was making her eyes water, worrying that the ventilation system was not working properly and that the smoke would damage the finish on her cabinets, and so on and so forth. She stopped complaining once she tried the corn, however. 🙂

This meal really hit the spot. The turkey breast came out of the oven super-juicy, with crispy skin; the zucchini-rice “gratin” was savory, creamy and crunchy, and took the place of bread stuffing admirably; and the corn with its charred spots and husk handle was a fun change of pace. The Cajun spice blend I used was a premixed bottle my mom already had on hand, more sweet than hot, which I certainly appreciated; whether that was because of the age of the bottle, I choose not to consider. 🙂

Cajun Zucchini-Rice Gratin

3-4 strips bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3 or 4 medium zucchini, cut into chunks or slices (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 C chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 C heavy cream
3 C cooked rice (I used short grain brown rice)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 C breadcrumbs
3/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
2 T olive oil

Heat the oven to 350F. In a large, deep skillet over medium-high, cook the bacon until almost crisp. Add the onion, garlic, and seasonings and cook until the onion is tender. Add the zucchini and cook for another 7-8 minutes. Add the chicken broth and cream, and simmer for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat if the mixture bubbles too rapidly. Remove the skillet from heat and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes.

In a small bowl mix the breadcrumbs (or cracker crumbs) with the cheese and olive oil. Set aside.

When the zucchini mixture has cooled, add the rice and beaten eggs. Pour into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Top with the breadcrumb/cracker crumb mixture. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden.

Source: Ms. enPlace

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