Vegetable Side Dishes for Easter

An Ample Bites fan asked for some suggestions for vegetable side dishes for Easter dinner this Sunday. Below are recipes for a few of my favorites. All of these dishes go very well with ham and lamb.

Asparagus and Cheese Tart
(Courtesy of April 2012, Food Network Magazine)

1 pound asparagus, trimmed
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (about 1/2 pound)
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 cup grated fontina cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 cup grated comte of gruyere cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 Tbsp minced shallot
2 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp whole milk
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring about 1 inch of water to 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 400F.

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 cheeses, 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, 1/4 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 lemon zest. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Red Onion

2 pounds of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350F

Line a baking sheet with oil. In a large bowl, toss sprouts, onion, oil, sugar and seasonings. Spread the sprouts in the baking sheet. Roast for 35 minutes stirring halfway through. Remove from oven and drizzle with balsamic vinegar, toss well and serve immediately.

Balsamic-Glazed Green Beans

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Cook beans and cranberries in simmering water in a skillet for 4 to 5 minutes until tender crisp. Drain and pat green beans dry. Immediately heat oil in skillet and add the onions and sugar, cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add the beans and cranberries and stir for about 3 minutes, until heated through. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and cook one additional minute. Garnish with the slivered almonds and serve.

Scalloped Potatoes with Tomatoes and Bell Peppers
(Courtesy of April 2012, Food Network Magazine)

2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups of whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/8 inch thick and patted dry
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated gruyere cheese (about 6 ounces)
4 plum tomatoes, sliced 3/4 inch thick
2 yellow and orange bell peppers, cut into 3/4 inch strips
1 onion, halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
3 tsp herbes de Provence
1 1/4 cups breadcrumbs (preferably fresh)

Whisk the egg yolks and 1/2 cup milk in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the remaining 1 cup milk and 1 cup cream in a medium saucepan; stir in the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the garlic and bay leaves and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the potatoes and simmer until halfway cooked, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat. Gradually stir in the egg-milk mixture and 1 cup gruyere. Cover and keep warm.

Preheat the broiler. Put the tomatoes, bell peppers and onion on a baking sheet in separate piles. Drizzle each pile with 2 teaspoons olive oil and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss each pile to coat and spread them out. Broil until tender and charred around the edges, about 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Brush a 1 1/2-quart baking dish with olive oil. Sprinkle half of the breadcrumbs (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) in the dish. Spoon out half of the potatoes and arrange evenly over the breadcrumbs; top with the broiled onions and half each of the tomatoes and peppers. Top with the remaining potatoes in an even layer and all of the cream mixture; discard the garlic and bay leaves. Top with the remaining tomatoes and bell peppers.

Bake until the potatoes are tender and lightly golden, about 40 to 50 minutes. Drizzle with the remaining 1/2 cup cream and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup gruyere. Continue baking until the cheese melts, about 5 more minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

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Rustic Italian Dinner for Four

Ample Bites and guests are in the mood for a traditional rustic Italian dinner today. Much of the inspiration for today’s menu came from the Williams Sonoma book titled Rustic Italian, authored by Domineca Marchetti.

After a salad of local greens with a light vinaigrette dressing, Ample Bites will serve Pasta Carbonara, a dish that combines my fresh homemade pasta with a silky, luxurious cheese and pancetta sauce fortified with egg yolks.

My homemade pasta

Accompanying the pasta will be a truly rustic dish of Herb Roasted Chicken Thighs with Wild Mushrooms. This dish is adapted from a similar dish that uses rabbit, an ingredient that was not available to Ample Bites. The vegetable will be a Spring Asparagus and Asiago Gratin, which will provide a light but savory balance to the richness of the pasta and chicken. A warm crusty bread with grated Parmesan cheese and good olive oil will be served along side.

The meal will be served with an inexpensive 2009 Santa Cristina Chianti Classico that we discovered during our 2010 trip to Tuscany. Fortunately we have been able to find this favorite at our local Binny’s Beverage Depot.

The recipes for the pasta, chicken and asparagus dishes are found below and will be archive on Ample Bites’ Recipes page and pictures will follow soon. Enjoy!

Pasta Carbonara
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2012)

Serves 4 – 6

¼ lb pancetta, cut into 1/3” cubes
7 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 lb pasta
Kosher salt
½ cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan, plus more for garnish
¾ tsp ground green peppercorns
¾ tsp freshly ground white pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Put pancetta in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until fat renders but the pancetta is not yet browned, about 5 minutes. Pour into a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl, reserve drippings. Transfer pancetta to a large bowl and let cool slightly. Add egg yolks and egg to bowl; whisk to blend.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking liquid.

To egg mixture, immediately add the pasta, 2 tablespoons of pasta cooking liquid, and 1 teaspoon of the pancetta drippings; toss to coat. Working in 3 batches, gradually add the cheese, stirring and tossing to melt between batches. Add pepper; toss until the sauce thickens, adding more pasta water by tablespoons, if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide among bowls. Garnish with cheese and parsley and serve immediately.

Herb Roasted Chicken Thighs with Wild Mushrooms
Mark Kelly

Serves 4

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, crushed flat but left whole
4 oz pancetta, cut into a small dice
3 – 4 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 lb wild mushrooms, roughly chopped
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 fresh sage sprig
1 fresh rosemary sprig
4 fresh thyme sprigs
½ cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 375F.

Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to a large Dutch oven or flameproof roasting pan and heat until the olive oil ripples. Add the garlic, pancetta, and mushrooms and place the pan over medium heat. Sauté until the pancetta begins to crisp and render its fat, about 8 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and lay the pieces of chicken in bottom. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and generous grinding of pepper. Over medium-high heat brown the chicken pieces on both sides. Meanwhile, remove the leaves from the herb sprigs and chop coarsely.

Scatter the herbs over the meat and drizzle evenly with the remaining olive oil. Add the wine, then spoon some of the sautéed pancetta over the chicken pieces. Roast for 45 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces and baste them with the pan juices every 15 minutes.

Raise the oven temperature to 450F and roast uncovered for about 10 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Transfer to a serving plate; spoon the pan juices over the chicken pieces; and serve immediately.

Spring Asparagus and Asiago Gratin
Asparagi Al Forno Con Asiago
(Courtesy of Rustic Italian, Domineca Marchetti)

Serves 4

1 lb asparagus woody ends removed
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup shredded Asiago cheese
3 Tbsp dried bread crumbs
1 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley
Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon, plus 1 – 2 tablespoons of the fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Arrange the asparagus in single layer in a baking dish and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss the spears to gently coat with the oil.

In a bowl, whisk together the cheese, bread crumbs, parsley, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon, salt and a grinding of pepper. Drizzle in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and stir until well mixed. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the asparagus. Bake, uncovered, until the asparagus is just tender and the topping is melted and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Drizzle the asparagus with some lemon juice and serve hot from the baking dish.

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Puff Pastry v. Phyllo Dough

While making an asparagus tart yesterday I learned the difference between puff pastry sheets and phyllo dough? They cannot be used interchangeably.

Puff pastry dough is a rich dough made by placing chilled butter between layers of pastry dough. It is then rolled out, folded into thirds and allowed to rest. This process is repeated six to eight times, producing a pastry with many layers of dough and butter. This is the type of dough I needed for the tart recipe.

Instead, I used the phyllo dough that I had purchased at the store earlier in the day. This tissue-thin pastry dough, which is used in a variety of sweet and savory Greek and Middle Eastern dishes, was too flaky and not nearly rich or absorbent enough for the tart. I learned from my mistake that puff pastry dough and phyllo dough are quite different. I guess that is why I am a cook and not a chef.

I will share the asparagus tart recipe after I make it successfully using puff pastry. I think it will be a “keeper”, as we say in our house about recipes that we enjoy enough to save and cook again.

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