Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sides that Sparkle: Day 1 in a Marathon of Side Dishes
What’s cooking? Asparagus Gratin

It’s tiiiiime... Get your pans out and your largest serving dishes and your good china/crystal/flatware and your recipe books.... No, wait – you won’t need all of those recipe books because the Kitchen Goddess is about to present you with some completely delightful and easy side dishes – one each over the next four days. It’s my own version of a marathon.

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle claims that only 4 percent of Americans meet their daily veggie needs. Now I will add that they’re using numbers from the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, an organization that’s probably the tiniest bit biased; but if they’re only half right, that’s still an amazingly low number. Apparently, this phenomenon has to do with changes in the style of eating we’re doing – more convenience foods and one-dish dinners (Hello, pizza? They’re calling your name...), and less of what’s known in the South as meat-and-three.

The Kitchen Goddess sees this problem as an action call. So for the next four days (this being Day 1), she will focus on veggie side dishes that are so packed with flavor, you’ll have your friends and families lining up for more. After all, no matter what you do with turkey to add flavor and moistness, it’s still, well, turkey. Pretty bland, in my humble opinion. We want to pack those dinner plates with sides that sparkle as much as your table.

I’m starting off with a dish I fed to friends just last night. And judging by the skimpy leftovers, I’d say it was a hit. The key is using – and reusing – the cooking water, so that it becomes more flavorful with every step. And, amazingly, there’s not a drop of cream in this dish, making it healthier than most gratins. If you want to make it gluten-free, there are a number of alternatives you can use for the 2 tablespoons of flour in the white sauce.

Asparagus Gratin

Adapted from Cook’s Country, April/May 2011

Serves 8.

2 pounds thin asparagus
2½ cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, separated
½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim the ends of the asparagus to get a relatively consistent length for them (start with the shortest as a measure), and save the ends. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, bring 2½ cups of water to a low boil and add the asparagus ends. Cover and cook at a low boil for 5 minutes.

While the ends are cooking, line a baking dish (I used a 3-quart oblong Pyrex dish) with paper towels. When the ends have finished cooking, remove them from the skillet with a slotted spoon and discard them.

Kitchen Goddess note: For the next step, unless you have an amazingly large skillet, you will have to cook the asparagus stalks in 2-3 batches. Just be sure that as you remove cooked stalks from the skillet, you let them drip back into the pan, to preserve as much of the cooking broth as possible.

Add a batch of the asparagus stalks to the skillet, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, at which point the stalks should be fork-tender. Transfer the cooked stalks to the paper-lined baking dish to cool, and add the next batch.

When all the stalks have been cooked, pour the cooking water into a measuring cup. You want to reserve 1 cup of liquid for the sauce; if you don’t have that much, add vegetable broth or water to make 1 cup.

In the now-empty skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour (we’re making a roux here), and whisk constantly until the roux is a golden color, which will take about 4 minutes.

Then continue to whisk the roux as you slowly pour the asparagus broth back into the pan. Once the sauce is smooth, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until it thickens.

Remove the thickened sauce from the heat and immediately whisk in ½ cup of the Parmesan and all of the Monterey Jack, stirring until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Slide the paper towels out from under the cooked stalks in the baking dish and arrange the stalks evenly. Spoon the sauce down the center of the dish and sprinkle on the remaining ¼ cup of Parmesan. Broil in the upper third of the oven for about 6 minutes or until the cheese is golden. Serve immediately.

Kitchen Goddess note: While the dish is probably best eaten immediately, I had no problem transporting it to a dinner party where it sat out for another couple of hours. To reheat, we put it in a microwave oven for a total of about 3 minutes on high.

1 comment:

  1. I was a lucky dinner recipient and it was delish! I agree with your turkey comment.