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Rice and Cheese Casserole with Caramelized Onions

Updated on May 15, 2016

Does a change of season signal a change in food cravings?

What foods do you crave? If macaroni and cheese is the food-love of your life, could you eat it every day, or do you find yourself yearning for different types of foods as the seasons change?

I think that part of our food desires might revolve around what types of fresh produce are available. Yes, I know that you can purchase a tomato at the grocer any day of the year, but only in summer are they succulent and sweet and (in a word) perfect. And some of our food cravings might also be controlled by climate. Summer heat begs for the cool respite of a crisp cold salad; winter chill desires a steaming mug of chowder.

Today in my little corner of the world we are in the midst of what is called an Indian Summer. We awaken to a misty dawn. The air is slightly warm, but there is a heaviness to the air, a dampness that was not there just a few weeks ago. By 10:00 a.m. the mist is gone and the air is warm and fragrant with the scent of the earth. Leaves that had blossomed with Fall color are beginning to drop, and their decay has a unique sour/sweet distinct (but pleasant) aroma. In mid-afternoon we feel the warmth of the sun, but our star is now a bit lower on the horizon. Daylight hours are shorter, and as evening approaches the air takes on a bit of a chill.

Although the day was warm, by supper time we are putting on sweaters, and a warm comforting meal is food for the soul.

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Leigh Ann Ross
Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Leigh Ann Ross | Source
Cast your vote for Onion Rice Casserole

Rice, caramelized onions, rich Gruyere and Parmesan cheese--each of these brings a smile to my face. But all three together? Absolute bliss!

Irene Lilja shared an amazing recipe for "Sweet Onion Casserole" in the May 2011 issue of Cooking Light. I tried it recently; I made a few slight adjustments in technique, but the genius of ingredients is hers. Irene, thank you for sharing your idea for using up those beautiful sweet summer onions.

Cook Time

Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 45 min
Ready in: 1 hour 15 min
Yields: 6 servings

Equipment you will need

  • chopping board
  • knife for chopping onions
  • large skillet or sauté pan
  • large pot for pre-cooking rice
  • colander (for draining rice)
  • 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, (CARB DIVA suggestion)
  • 4 cups chopped sweet onion, about 1 3/4 pounds
  • 1/2 cup uncooked medium-grain rice
  • 2/3 cup 2 percent or low-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup Gruyere (or Swiss) cheese, grated
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice, (CARB DIVA suggests using nutmeg instead)
  • cooking spray
  • 1/3 cup (1 1/3 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Place onion in a large bowl. NOTE--OK, here's where I step in. A 5-minute sauté is not enough. Set the heat to low, add a tablespoon of unsalted butter, and slowly caramelize those onions. Plan on at least 20 minutes.
  3. Cook rice in a large pot of boiling water 5 minutes. Drain.
  4. Stir rice and next 5 ingredients (through allspice--CARB DIVA SUGGESTS NUTMEG) into onions.
  5. Spoon onion mixture into an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake at 325° for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 5 minutes. Top with parsley, if desired.

What is carmelization?

Caramelization is a culinary phenomenon that occurs when carbohydrates like sugar are heated to temperatures of 300°F or higher, causing them to turn brown--think of what happens when brad becomes toast or marshmallows on a stick become the yummy middle of s'mores. has a very good explanation of the process:

Changes, Options, Fun Additions and Variations

  • Need to have meat? You could add a bit of ham, cooked sausage, cooked chicken, or leftover beef roast.
  • Don't like Gruyere or Swiss cheese? You could use Cheddar.

© 2014 Linda Lum


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