Although our spring started off unseasonably colder than usual with several cool fronts and some rainfall, spring is definitely in the air now. The trees have filled in with new green growth, beautiful flowers are blooming everywhere and if you listen closely you can even hear the birds singing. I’m loving the azaleas and crepe myrtles and the bluebonnets seem exceptionally majestic this year. It’s the perfect time to enjoy fresh seasonal produce. Fruits and vegetables such as oranges, grapefruits, carrots, kale, cabbage, asparagus and peas are in season.
With Easter on the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter side dishes. Just like the rebirth and new life that spring represents, I enjoy discovering new, fresh and tasty ways to prepare side dishes for the Easter meal.
On a recent trip down the rabbit hole that is the internet, I found many recipes that were appealing but I finally narrowed it down to two – an asparagus and cheese tart and a broccoli casserole. I absolutely love asparagus in any form or fashion and a cheese tart sounded just perfect. And I know, we’ve all had a million versions of broccoli casserole, but there was just something about this one that seemed different – different enough for me to at least give it a try.
However, oftentimes, I get so excited about what something’s going to taste like that I forget to consider whether or not it will photograph well. Case in point – the broccoli casserole. It doesn’t make a pretty picture. And while the asparagus cheese tart does make for a pretty and appealing pic, wouldn’t you know that I photographed it before remembering to garnish it with the fresh lemon zest. Oh well. Squint your eyes and try to envision it topped with a sprinkling of fresh lemon zest. I’ll try to do better next week when I share some ideas for Easter desserts.
—6 Tablespoons butter, divided
— 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
— Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
— 1 cup whole milk or half-and-half
— 1 cup chopped onions
— 1 cup chopped mushrooms
— 3 pounds broccoli florets (about 10 to 12 cups)
— 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
— 2 cups sour cream
— 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
•Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a shallow 3-quart casserole.
•Melt 3 Tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour, season with salt and pepper and whisk until the mixture is smoothly blended and starts to turn a light golden color. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk often until the mixture just comes to a simmer, then whisk frequently for another 4 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Adjust the heat so the mixture stays at a simmer.
•Meanwhile, in a large skillet with a lid, heat 2 more tablespoons of butter over medium heat until melted. Add the onions and mushrooms and sauté for about 8 minutes until the vegetables are brown, and any liquid that gets released evaporates. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the mushroom mixture into the white sauce.
•Return the skillet to medium high heat and add the broccoli and the broth. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover the pan and steam the broccoli for 4 minutes until almost tender.
•Pour the white sauce into the pan with the broccoli and remaining broth (there should be about 1 ½ cups left in the pan) and stir to combine. Add the sour cream and the cheese and stir to blend well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and spread it out evenly.
•Bake for 30 minutes until bubbly and golden brown on top. Serve hot.
— Use fresh broccoli from the produce section. I used frozen broccoli florets in an effort to save time but the extra moisture in them resulted in the casserole being a little on the gloppy side. I’ll make it again but I’ll use fresh broccoli next time.
Asparagus and Cheese Tart
From Food Network Magazine
—1 pound asparagus, trimmed
— 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
— All-purpose flour, for dusting
— 1 cup grated fontina cheese (about 3 ounces)
— 1 cup grated comte or gruyere cheese (about 3 ounces)
— 1 tablespoon minced shallot
— 2 large egg yolks
— 3 Tablespoons whole milk
— ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
— Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
— 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
— ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
•Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring about 1 inch of water to a boil in a large skillet. Add the asparagus; cook until bright green and crisp-tender, 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Drain and transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking; drain and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
•Roll out the puff pastry into a 10-by-16-inch rectangle on a floured surface. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Bake until light golden brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet.
•Meanwhile, mix the fontina, comte, shallot, egg yolks, milk, nutmeg and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a bowl until combined. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the puff pastry, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides. Toss the asparagus with the olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the asparagus on the tart and bake until the cheese mixture is slightly puffy, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the vlemon zest. Serve warm or at room temperature.
— I couldn’t find fontina cheese so I substituted provolone.
— Rather than worry with trying to roll the puff pastry into a 10 x 16 rectangle, I cut a piece of parchment paper to fit my sheet pan and then used the parchment paper as a template for rolling out the puff pastry.
—Don’t skip the fresh lemon zest. It adds a touch of brightness to the tart.