Broccoli rice casserole may be a classic, but this isn’t your typical old-fashioned casserole. There are no canned soups or mushy broccoli to be found in this fresh, from-scratch take on a family favorite.
What Is Broccoli Rice Casserole?
This homemade vegetarian casserole combines fresh broccoli florets with tender long-grain white rice. The filling is covered in a simple cream cheese sauce that is layered with cheddar cheese. The layers melt into each other as they bake, creating a creamy casserole that is filling enough to be a veggie main or a side dish with pork chops or baked chicken.
Frozen Vs. Fresh Broccoli
Fresh broccoli is really what makes this recipe stand out. The florets are blanched to keep them a vibrant green color and give them a head start without causing them to turn to mush when baked in the casserole.
You can use frozen broccoli if you like, but expect it to have less flavor and a softer texture than when you opt for fresh. Allow frozen florets to thaw completely and strain away any excess water before stirring them together with the rice to assemble the casserole.
Tips and Tricks
- Don’t overbake it. It’s important not to overbake the casserole so that it doesn’t dry out. The sauce will start bubbling after about 30 minutes and, since all ingredients are cooked, it only needs to bubble for 5 minutes before it’s ready. Any longer and you risk drying out the casserole.
- Cook the rice yourself. I find that long-grain rice cooked from scratch—whether boiled, in a pressure cooker, or in a rice cooker—provides the best results. I made the recipe with leftover parboiled rice that was boiled in a bag and found the final result to be dry. Instead, save your leftover rice for fried rice.
- Shred the cheese yourself. When it comes to cheese, the convenience of bagged, shredded cheese isn’t worth it. Always shred your own from a block for this casserole. Freshly shredded cheese melts better because it doesn’t have additives to keep it from clumping like those often added to pre-shredded cheeses.
- Cheese: The best thing about cheesy recipes is that you can use all kinds of cheeses to put your own twist on the final dish. Melty cheeses like Colby, fontina, Havarti, provolone, and smoked Gouda would all make tasty substitutions in place of the cheddar in this recipe.
- Vegetables: While broccoli is the star of the show here, you can swap out some of it for another vegetable such as cauliflower, green beans, Brussels sprouts, or asparagus. Blanch them just as you do the broccoli. Sautéed or caramelized onion also makes a creative addition.
- Rice: While I prefer long-grain rice for this casserole due to its tender texture and mild flavor, you can substitute cooked long-grain brown rice.
Easy Variations on Broccoli Rice Casserole
While this recipe works well as both a vegetarian side dish and an entree, there is always the option to add meat. Chopped, cooked bacon, ham, turkey breast, chicken thighs or breasts, or shredded rotisserie chicken can all be added. Stick with 1 to 2 cups of meat so the casserole dish doesn’t overflow.
For a heartier vegetarian version, add sautéed sliced mushrooms. One cup of cooked white button, cremini, and even maitake make a flavorful addition to this casserole.
Make It Ahead
This casserole is best prepared and baked right away, but you can make it up to 24 hours ahead of time. Assemble the casserole, don’t bake, and wrap it in plastic wrap to store in the refrigerator.
Plan to let it sit for 30 minutes at room temperature to warm up the ingredients. You might need to bake it an additional 5 to 10 minutes, too—just make sure that the sauce bubbles for about 5 minutes and it will be ready to serve.
Freezing isn’t an appealing option for this casserole due to the amount of rice. When baked, it can become mushy.
Broccoli Rice Casserole From Scratch
1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1 1/2 cups water
1 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound broccoli crowns (about 2 small crowns), cut into florets (about 4 cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, optional
6 ounces medium cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease an 8x8-inch or other 2-quart casserole dish with butter.
Cook the rice:
Place the rice in a mesh colander. Rinse it under running water for 30 seconds and drain well.
Add the rice and water to a large saucepan. Stir in a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover the pan with a lid. Cook for 10 minutes, watching it closely so all of the water doesn’t evaporate.
Turn off the heat and let the pot sit, covered, for 10 more minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and set aside the pot.
Blanch the broccoli:
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. While it heats up, fill a medium bowl about half full of ice water.
Add the broccoli to the boiling water. Allow the water to return to a boil and cook until the broccoli is bright green, 3 to 5 minutes. If you want broccoli that is a little crisp, blanch it for 3 minutes; for softer broccoli, blanch it for 5 minutes.
Use a spider spatula or a slotted spoon to transfer the broccoli from the boiling water into the ice water. Let the broccoli sit in the ice water for 5 minutes, drain it, then transfer it to a large bowl.
Combine the casserole filling:
Add the cooked rice to the bowl with the broccoli and stir to combine both ingredients.
Make the cream cheese sauce:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk immediately until a bubbling, golden paste forms on the bottom of the pan, about 90 seconds.
Reduce the heat to medium and gradually pour in the milk as you whisk constantly. Continue to cook and whisk until the sauce thickens to the point where it will coat the back of a spoon, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cream cheese until smooth. Stir in the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne, if using.
Assemble the casserole:
Transfer about 3/4 of the broccoli and rice to the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheddar over the top. Pour the cream cheese sauce over the cheddar and spread evenly. Top with the remaining broccoli and rice and gently press the top layer into the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
Bake the casserole:
Place the dish on a sheet pan to catch any sauce that might bubble over. Bake until the cheese is melted, the edges of exposed broccoli are brown, and the sauce is bubbling, about 35 minutes.
Garnish and serve:
Let the casserole sit for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish it with chopped parsley and serve warm.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The microwave is the best option for reheating single servings.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 20g||25%|
|Saturated Fat 11g||56%|
|Total Carbohydrate 38g||14%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||7%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 71mg||357%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|