A Better Broccoli Rice Casserole

Although this makes a lot, the two of us managed to inhale it with no problem!

Although this makes a lot, the two of us managed to inhale it with no problem!

Well, “better” is a relative term…but this is a very delicious and perhaps better-for-you broccoli rice casserole than the canned soup-based one we grew up with, I think. And one that I believe would appeal to young and old alike.

First off, this one is chocked full of fresh broccoli (in season right now!) and is paired with sweet onion and brown rice bound together with a nutmeg-scented parmesan cream sauce. Add a little Black Forest Ham if you like, or leave it out if you don’t. And while I did use some butter in the sauce, I also used 1% low fat milk instead of cream, which worked just fine and enhanced the natural sweetness of the ingredients.

The resulting dish has a lovely nutty flavor from the brown rice, broccoli and roux-based Parmesan cream sauce combo, with a nice salty-sweet hit from the ham, if you use it.Β And trust me ham or no, it’s a filling and comforting meal in one pot…my favorite kind in the winter, or anytime!

Now here’s the trick. This was so tasty that I never got a good picture of it before we inhaled it for dinners this week! So with my apologies for the flash picture, and only one view, at least you can see how colorful it is.

Hand Update: I’m almost back to speed in the kitchen. After exams, x-rays and some prescription meds this week, the good news is that it’s just a small tear in the tendon of the hand, and should be much better by next week. The moral of this story: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Broccoli and Brown Rice Casserole with Onions, Ham and Parmesan
Makes 6-8 generous servings

2 cups long grain brown rice
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 lbs. fresh broccoli florets

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large sweet onion, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
3 Tablespoons of flour
1 1/2 cups low fat milk
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, or to taste
2 cups cubed (1/4″) Black Forest Ham (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium sized pot with a lid, bring the rice and the 4 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover until the rice is just tender and has absorbed the water, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff the rice with a fork, set aside.

In another medium sized pot, bring some water to a boil and drop the broccoli into the water in batches, allowing each batch to cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain the broccoli in a colander and rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.

In a large deep sided skillet, heat the butter over medium low heat and add the onions. Cook the onions until they are tender and transparent, then add the flour and stir constantly, allowing the flour to cook and develop a light roux, about 4-5 minutes. Add in the milk while stirring constantly to incorporate the roux into the milk. Bring the mixture just back to a simmer, allowing it to thicken. Turn the heat off, then add 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper and the nutmeg and stir well to combine. Add in the cooked rice, the broccoli florets and the ham (if using) to the prepared parmesan cream sauce, and stir well to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding a pinch more salt, pepper and nutmeg, if needed. Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish that has been buttered, and sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese evenly over the top. Place it in a 350 degree F oven and bake until it is heated through and bubbling, and the top is very lightly browned, about 20-30 minutes. Serve. Keeps well in the fridge and reheats beautifully.



40 thoughts on “A Better Broccoli Rice Casserole

  1. Ok, this does look delicious! I grew up on broccoli rice casserole and I remember its not so great flavor. LOL! But love the sweet onion, brown rice and lightened up bechamel you’ve used. Fabulous! Comfort food that tastes great and healthier. I have a client who LOVES comfort food. I’m making this one for him. πŸ™‚


    • I’m flattered you’d consider this client-worthy, Karista. πŸ™‚ I’d make it for company myself. And yes, bechamel sounds so difficult by name, but it is so easy to make and the same basic base minus onions and with mixed cheeses makes a great mac and cheese, too! Thanks for your lovely comment.


  2. I remember this dish at many potlucks! It was good though I never made it with the canned soup and whatever else was in it. Now I am thrilled to see this and try it out. I like that you used brown rice and actually the ham could make it a great leftover lunch..if there’s any left!!


    • Hey Linda, and thanks for your comment. This really would make a good pot luck dish and I can tell you from experience that it’s great for leftover lunch or dinner. I love cooked broccoli and can eat it like candy, so with these ingredients it’s just more of a good thing! πŸ˜‰


    • Thanks Tanya, I’m so happy to have more use of my hand and for the pain to finally be subsiding. It’s been an experience! So this is new to you…that’s cool. It kind of reminds me a bit of your quick risotto dish in a way. Let me know if you try it what you think! πŸ™‚


  3. Glad to know you found out what is wrong with your hand. πŸ™‚
    I will have to come and enjoy this lovely meal at your home, no ways will my hubby even think about eating brown rice!
    Have a super week.
    πŸ™‚ Mandy


  4. This looks great, Betsy. Love that you figured out a way to make a delicious casserole without the dreaded canned soup. I’ll be sure to give it a try. Good news, too about your hand. Glad to hear it was a relatively “minor” injury and that you’ll have it back at 100% in no time.


    • I think I’ve actually only used canned soup in a recipe once in my life, John, because it actually upsets my stomach…the canned cream soups, that is. And cheese sauces and bechamel are so easy to do, as I’m sure you know…but I guess what I didn’t know was that the low fat milk would work so well. Now I can eat cream sauce and feel rather good about it! Thanks for your well wishes regarding my hand…I’m ready for it to be normal again, and happy that it will be soon. πŸ™‚


  5. I have never made this.. ever, and can immediately see that this would appeal to the vegetarian teenager here who does not like vegetables, except broccoli! He seems to live on starches. i think I might make this tonight, but with regular cheese as he is a bit fussy about that too!I love cream sauces! c


  6. This is on my list to make next week Betsy. I always keep cubed ham in the freezer for just this kind of dish. Cheesy rice is the perfect way to lure my girls to eat their broccoli, which they’ve been up and down about lately. I guess that you could use chicken in place of the ham as well!


    • I hope your girls enjoy this, Barb. And yes, I think chicken would work nicely, too, kind of like Divan, but with rice! It really is a yummy way to eat broccoli and to get some good fiber into a meal. Have a great week!


  7. This is a great comfort food that is also healthy. I always have cooked brown rice in my freezer making this easy for me to put together. Like that it reheats well.
    Glad your hand is on the mend and will be back to normal soon.


    • You know, that is such a great idea to have cooked brown rice in the freezer. I wish I had more freezer space…my little side by side gets maxxed out pretty quickly, unfortunately. Thanks for your good wishes, Norma. It’s a slow process with the hand since it gets used all the time, but it will be right as rain eventually! πŸ™‚


  8. Woah. WOAH.

    hold on just one moment.

    Forgive me if I’m wrong but you don’t seem to have mentioned where you learnt this recipe, if that’s because you invented it yourself, (because I’ve never seen it before) you should put a copyright on this or something. It’s like an english risotto.

    I have a taste for comforting foods like sausage casseroles, risottos and porridge. This looks like the ultimate in January blues cures.

    This comment is a bit rambly, but I can’t quite get over how good it looks. One of the few recipes I read that I will probably cook!


    • Hi there Hamilton Courtney and thank you for such a wonderful compliment and your kind comments. Yes, this is an original recipe I made up…if there truly is such a thing! I think it would be hard to copyright that! πŸ™‚ Excuse my editing in this reply…lack of sleep is making me read things incorrectly today and I am rambling, too. πŸ™‚ I’m so glad you like the sound of the recipe and I hope you’ll give it a try! Please let me know if you like it.


  9. I’m so relieved to read that your hand will be back to normal in a short while, nothing is worse than having a lingering issue like that, especially in your hand if you’re a blogger like us! I think it’s such a great idea to have done a make-over of a favorite comfort food like this casserole. While I did love the original version, too much Christmas indulgence means I have to cut back on some foods. I think, no, I’m sure you’ve succeeded. The best recipes never have a good photo because they’re eaten too quickly:D xx


    • Thanks, Smidge! I am also relieved that my hand should be back to normal eventually. It just takes a long time for that tear to heal when you’re using the hand constantly! I love comfort food, but always want to try and lighten it up if I can. This one is a keeper…at least for us. πŸ™‚


  10. Oh Betsy, I am so sorry about your hand and extra sorry I haven’t been keeping up on reading my favorite blogs (yours included) or I would have wished you a speedy recovery. I am so glad that you are in recovery mode now and can get back in your beloved kitchen, cooking and chopping with wild abandon (well hopefully wild abandon soon).

    This broccoli casserole looks like just the thing I need to add to my dinner line-up. What a comforting classic but totally updated with fresh ingredients and a lighter touch. I wish I could dive in right now with a fork. Hope your new year continues on a better note. Take care and I do wish you the best and hope that your hand feels 100%.


    • Thank you so much for your good wishes and kind words, Geni! The hand is slowly coming along. The doc says to expect at least 8 weeks for a full recovery so I’m trying to be patient! Other than that, the new year is going well so far, and I hope yours is, too. πŸ™‚ This casserole may be one of my faves, now. I’m such a hound for broccoli and this is a very nice way to enjoy it!


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