We are entering our third week of unpacking. We had thought that by now we would be able to have Carol and her family over for our alternating family Sunday dinner. Unfortunately that was not to be although our kitchen is in good enough order to do some cooking. This week I was scheduled to make the main dish and sides. Carol was scheduled to make appetizers and dessert. The modified modified plan was for me to cook in our kitchen and then take it to Carol’s house for the dinner.
Carol made some outstanding appetizers and a delicious bread pudding (I forgot to make the promised whiskey sauce, but not to worry – there was whipped cream and/or ice cream to substitute.) Carol calls the appetizers puff pastry pinwheels. She had two kinds: pesto and sun-dried tomato. She says that the family’s favorite is prosciutto. It would have to be great to beat the two that she baked. Her bread pudding was made from an extra Christmas panettone augmented with chocolate and raisins.
Puff pastry pinwheels
For the main dish I roasted a whole chicken along with Hasselbach potatoes. The challenge was the green vegetable. This time of year you can always find broccoli, broccolini, and green beans, but for me they have worn out their welcome. I know that summer squash is out of season, but in Southern California everything seems to be in season all year long. Unfortunately zucchini often cooks up watery with not much color. I decided to combine it with another watery vegetable but with more color: spinach. And mushrooms. Cheese and mushrooms sounded like good additions, and suddenly you have the makings of a quiche. The crust was definitely too much effort and too filling for a side dish, but the stand-alone filling sounded good.
Here’s the whole menu – puff pastry pinwheels, roast chicken, Hasselbach potatoes, zucchini-spinach un-quiche, and panettone bread pudding.
Baby spinach leaves
Zucchini and spinach un-quiche
Zucchini and Spinach Un-Quiche
- 3 medium zucchini
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 generous handfuls, more or less, fresh baby spinach
- 5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
- salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons Pernod
- 2 ounces Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
- 3 eggs, well beaten
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup panko
- ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Wash the zucchini and cut off the stems. Grate with the coarse side of a box grater. In a clean towel or with clean hands, squeeze as much liquid as you can from the grated zucchini.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the grated squash and sauté until the squash gives up its liquid. Then add the spinach and cook until the leaves are completely wilted and they have given up their liquid. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add Pernod
- Transfer the mixture to a strainer. Drain. Use a heavy spoon to press out as much moisture as you can. Place in a well-buttered 2 quart baking dish or soufflé bowl. Top with grated Swiss cheese.
- Combine the well-beaten eggs and cream. Add a little bit more salt and pepper. Pour over the zucchini/spinach mixture and stir until well combined. Sprinkle the top with panko and grated Parmesan cheese. Dot with butter.
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 hour or until bubbling and well-browned. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, and serve while still warm.
- The casserole will deflate as it cools. It will not reinflate with reheating, but it will still taste good if it is rewarmed.
- You can turn this into quiche by baking it in a blind-baked pie shell at the same temperature for the same time.
- You can turn it into a soufflé by separating the eggs, combining yolks with the cream, and gently folding in the stiffly-beaten egg whites. Use the same time and temperature.
A well-made spoonbread is haute cuisine cooking with corn. There are lots of recipes for spoonbread, but many of them are not much more than a version of cornbread. The version I love is more like a cornmeal soufflé, and baking one requires many of the methods and techniques used to make a soufflé. According to Bernard Clayton in his classic, The Complete Book of Breads, spoonbread was developed by accident in colonial Virginia when a batch of cornbread was forgotten. To me, that seems likely to be apocryphal because spoonbread – at least this recipe – uses entirely different techniques from cornbread.
When we were dating, my wife, Susan, often made spoonbread at my request. She had many special dishes that proved she was a great cook, but without a doubt, spoonbread was one of her major achievements. After our children became old enough to have favorite foods, spoonbread was one of them, so much so that Susan sometimes made two separate spoonbreads for one meal.
During our most recent visit to East Texas, Susan made spoonbread for her brother, sister, and brother-in-law. I flew in for a late dinner, and all I got was a dab. That was better than nothing, though, and many a late diner has missed out on Susan’s spoonbread.
Dogwoods like ghosts in the forest
The different hues of green in the springtime forest
A field full of Texas groundsel
Some recipes call for added cheese. This version gilds the lily with added ham, mushroom duxelles, and scallions. The cheese can be added by serving the spoonbread with Mornay sauce. You don’t have to add all of those things. The basic model is good enough to keep you coming back for more.
For this post, I combined the dressed up spoonbread with fresh asparagus and braised lamb shanks – both go well with Mornay sauce.
Ham and Scallion Spoonbread
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup milk
- 3 extra-large eggs, separated
- ½ cup cooked Black Forest ham, finely chopped
- ¼ cup finely diced sautéed mushroom duxelles, squeezed dry
- ¼ cup scallions, finely chopped, including the green tops
- In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the cornmeal and milk. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes until the cornmeal is soft.
- Remove the cooked cornmeal from the heat. Then stir in the salt, baking powder, melted butter and additional milk.
- Beat the egg yolks until foamy. Stir into the cornmeal mixture. Mix well to reduce lumps – you won’t be able to get rid of all of them.
- Stir in the chopped ham, mushrooms, and scallions.
- Beat the separated egg whites to form stiff peaks. By thirds, fold the egg whites into the cornmeal mixture. Do not beat.
- Pour the batter into a greased two-quart soufflé dish and bake for 1 hour in the middle of an oven preheated to 325°F (163°C).
- Serve immediately while the spoonbread is still puffed.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ cup grated Swiss cheese
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- juice of ½ lemon
- In a 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat
- Stir in the flour and cook for several minutes to remove the raw flour taste.
- Add the half and half, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens.
- Remove from the heat. Stir in the cheese until it is completely melted.
- Stir in the lemon zest and juice and adjust seasonings.
- Keep warm until ready to serve with the spoonbread.
Black Forest ham, scallions, and mushroom duxelles
Fresh asparagus tips
Ready to go into the oven
Baked and ready to eat
Spoonbread and asparagus with Mornay sauce, braised lamb shank