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Heat a 2 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add olive oil or butter and, when hot and bubbling, stir in rice. (If using a spice blend like curry, stir it in now to awaken the flavor.) Stir rice over medium heat to toast the grains, 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour in stock, adding any additional flavorings (Tabasco, bay leaf or dried herbs) and stir. Bring stock just to boiling, immediately cover pot and reduce heat to low. (If using an electric stove, move pot to another burner preheated to low.) Simmer rice for exactly 17 minutes without disturbing--don't peek.
When rice is cooked, remove pan from heat and stir in a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, salt to taste and 1 tablespoon additional butter, if desired. Cover tightly and let sit until rice fluffs, butter melts and rice absorbs any remaining moisture, 3 to 5 minutes. If using a bay leaf, remove before serving. Serve rice hot.
In the oil or butter, sauté 1 cup minced yellow onion and, when softened, add 2 minced cloves garlic and 1 minced green or red bell pepper. Sauté until softened and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Then sauté rice with vegetables until toasted, add chicken stock and, just before it comes to a boil, add 1 1/2 to 2 cups corn kernels-- either removed from 2 large fresh cobs, or 1 large can (12 to 16 ounces) drained or 1 box (10 ounces) frozen corn (do not thaw before using). Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat as directed in recipe.
In the oil or butter, sauté 3/4 cup minced yellow onion and 1/2 cup minced celery until softened. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 cup cleaned and sliced fresh button mushrooms. Raise heat to medium-high and sauté vegetables until mushrooms are golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in rice and, when toasted, add only 2 cups beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetable stock and 8 skinned, seeded and coarsely chopped plum (Roma) tomatoes or 1 can (28 ounces) peeled tomatoes, drained and 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes. Season with 1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to very low and simmer 19 minutes. Uncover and stir in 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover, allow to fluff, and serve.
Vegetables to sauté and simmer with uncooked rice: diced carrots, thinly sliced leeks, diced zucchini or yellow squash.
Additions to stir into cooked rice: cooked fresh peas or thawed frozen peas; blanched asparagus sliced into 1-inch pieces and briefly sautéed to rewarm; broccoli florets, treated the same as asparagus; cleaned and sliced wild mushrooms sautéed in hot olive oil and minced garlic; toasted nuts such as pine nuts or coarsely chopped blanched almonds; pan sautéed fresh chestnuts or toasted pumpkin seeds; assorted dried fruit cut into small pieces.